Your child has been home from school for three days with a cough, runny nose, and fever. You’ve had to miss work to take care of him and are worried that you’ll have to miss a couple more days. This is a common situation that families experience during influenza (flu) season because the flu can make people feel miserable for several days or weeks.
Flu is an illness that affects people of all ages, and it is a major health issue around the world. Both children and adults should get a flu vaccine each year to reduce your chance of getting sick or spreading the flu to others.
What is flu?
Flu is an illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Most people get the flu during the colder months, beginning in October and lasting through the spring. Flu can be spread in the air when people with the virus cough or sneeze, or a person can become infected by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching their mouth or eyes.
Who gets flu?
Anybody can get the flu! But, some people are more likely to become very sick with flu. Those at highest risk include: young children, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, and people who are already sick with diseases like pneumonia, asthma, chronic lung disease, HIV, heart disease, and diabetes.
What are the signs and symptoms of flu?
Flu symptoms include a sore throat, runny nose, and cough. People with the flu also feel very tired and may have a fever, chills, and body aches. Children who have the flu may have different symptoms than adults, like diarrhea and vomiting, in addition to the other symptoms. Flu symptoms usually come on very suddenly.
How is flu treated?
Most of the time, flu can be treated at home. It is important to rest and to drink plenty of water. Stay home while you are sick and for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone so you do not spread the flu to others. Sometimes flu can be severe. If a person is having trouble breathing, feeling dizzy or confused, or having chest or abdominal pain, they should go to the hospital. In some cases doctors may also give medications to help your body fight the virus.
How can I prevent flu?
The most important way to prevent flu is to get vaccinated! Everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine every year. The flu vaccine reduces the chances of getting sick. The vaccine may be given as a shot in the arm or as a spray in the nose. Talk with your doctor if you have an egg allergy or if you have had a reaction to the vaccine in the past. Now is a great time to get vaccinated!
Other ways to avoid getting sick are:
- Clean your hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.
- Stay home from if you are sick. You can search for a location to get flu vaccine at www.mdhflu.com and click on “Vaccine Clinic Look-Up.” This site also includes information on clinics in Minnesota that offer free or low-cost vaccines for children and adults who do not have insurance or whose insurance does not cover immunizations.