Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

Stay Healthy This Flu Season

Flu Overview

Get all the basics on the 2018-2019 flu season. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

The symptoms for all flu are similar. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue (very tired)
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, (more common in children than adults)

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

If you get sick with flu-like symptoms, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.

However, some people are more likely to get flu complications (for example young children, people 65 and older, people with asthma, diabetes or women who are pregnant) and they should talk to a health care provider about whether they need to be examined if they get flu symptoms. Also, it’s possible for healthy people to develop severe illness from the flu so anyone concerned about their illness should consult a health care provider.

There are emergency warning signs. Anyone who has them should get medical care right away.

What are the emergency warning signs?

In Children: In Adults:
 

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash
 

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu–like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

 

Do I need to go the emergency room if I am only a little sick?

No. The emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. You should not go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill. If you have the emergency warning signs (listed above) of flu sickness, you should go to the emergency room. If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice. If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick with the flu, you may catch it from people who do have the virus.

How long should I stay home if I’m sick?

CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other things you have to do and no one else can do for you. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol®.) You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings.

What should I do while I’m sick?

Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making them sick and get plenty of rest. If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a facemask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. And wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others. Visit the Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home guide for more information.

This content is adapted from “What You Should Know for the 2016-2017 Influenza Season” from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Get Vaccinated

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s panel of immunization experts (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommended that all people aged 6 months and older get a flu shot. The only exceptions are people with a severe allergy to something in the vaccine.

When should I get vaccinated?

The best time to get a flu shot is in the fall, as soon as the vaccine becomes available.

Is the flu vaccine effective against all types of flu and cold viruses?

The flu vaccine is your best protection against flu viruses. The vaccine does not provide protection against non-flu viruses that can cause colds and other respiratory illnesses. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a cold and the flu based on symptoms alone.

The 2017-2018 flu vaccine will protect against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines) most likely to be circulating this season.

Why do I need to get a flu vaccine every year?

Flu viruses change from year to year, which means two things. First, you can get the flu more than once during your lifetime. The immunity (natural protection that develops against a disease after a person has had that disease) that is built up from having the flu caused by one flu virus strain doesn’t always provide protection against newer strains of the flu. Second, a flu vaccine made against flu viruses going around last year may not protect against the newer viruses. That is why the flu vaccine is updated to include current viruses every year. Because of these reasons, a new flu vaccine is needed each year.

How and where do I get a Flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is available at the newly opened Lahey Health Urgent Care center in Danvers [link to webpage if available] and will be available at the Lahey Health Urgent Center opening soon in Gloucester. You may also call your primary care physician’s office to see if they have vaccine and the best time to come in to their office for a flu shot.

Flu shots are also offered at many community locations including:

The flu vaccine is covered by health insurance. Your insurance will be charged for the vaccine, but there will be no out of pocket expense to you.

Practice Healthy Habits

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to give the flu to others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick.

That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

To protect your family’s health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. You can also use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Keep your home and work spaces clean.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Are you coming down with a cold? Do you have the flu? Look below to see some differences and similarities between colds and the flu.

 

Differences Between Colds and the Flu

With a Cold

With the Flu

Symptoms are usually less severe than flu symptoms.

Symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms.

Symptoms develop gradually over a few days.

Symptoms come on quickly and severely.

You rarely have a fever.

You almost always have a fever.

You feel sick mostly in your head and nose.

Your entire body feels sick.

Body aches, headaches and pain are usually mild if you have them.

Body aches, headaches and pain are common and can be severe.

You may or may not feel tired and weak.

Tiredness and weakness are common.

There is no vaccine to protect you.

You can get vaccine to protect yourself.

Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

The flu can result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

Similarities Between Colds and the Flu

With a Cold

With the Flu

Caused by a virus.

Caused by a virus.

Affects the body’s breathing system (nose, throat, windpipe and lungs).

Affects the body’s breathing system (nose, throat, windpipe and lungs).

Usually goes away on its own.

Usually goes away on its own.

You should contact your doctor if symptoms change or get worse.

You should contact your doctor if symptoms change or get worse.

In most cases, if you are generally healthy and not experiencing severe influenza symptoms (high fever, difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent vomiting, severe diarrhea or dehydration), your symptoms are best managed at home unless you are pregnant or have a medical condition which puts you at higher risk of flu-related complications.

What to expect:

The flu commonly lasts 5-7 days. After you have recovered, you may continue to feel more weak and tired than usual. In some people, the cough may persist for several weeks.

You are contagious one day before symptoms begin until 24 hours after your fever is gone. Stay home and keep away from other people until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medications.

How to help yourself feel better until you recover:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • High fevers can cause dehydration. Drink lots of different non- alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids, such as chicken soup, juice, water. If you have diarrhea or vomiting you may benefit from Pedialyte or diluted Gatorade to help replace lost electrolytes.
  • Eat easily digestible soft foods, such as oatmeal, toast, applesauce and rice. Eat small amounts frequently.

Prevent the spread

An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your chances of getting and spreading the flu. In addition to getting the flu shot, there are everyday actions you can do to help prevent the spread of germs that cause illnesses like influenza:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands afterward.
  • Wash your hands often and properly: especially before eating, after using the restroom, and after being outside. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, or wash with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. The virus spreads from coughing the virus out into the air and from touching surfaces with your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to reduce the spread of germs.