The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that flu severity is high this week and has been high this flu season (September 2019 – January 2020). Want to know more about how to protect yourself and your family from the flu?
Flu is a disease of the body’s breathing system, including the nose, throat and lungs. Flu is short for “influenza.” Flu is caused by a virus. In New England, the yearly flu season usually begins in the fall and lasts through March. Flu that occurs every winter season is called “seasonal flu.” New and very different flu viruses that appear every 30-40 years, like the H1N1 flu virus in 2009, are called “pandemic flu.” Seasonal flu and pandemic flu have similar symptoms, are spread the same way, and are prevented the same way.
The most common symptoms of flu are fever, cough, and sore throat. Symptoms can also include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose and feeling very tired. Some people, especially young children, also have diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms last from a few days to up to a week or more.
Yes, flu can be very serious. Every year in the U.S. seasonal flu causes thousands of hospital admissions and deaths. Some people are at higher risk of serious health problems when they get the flu. This includes pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological and neuromuscular conditions and weakened immune systems.
The flu virus is in the wet spray (droplets of saliva and mucus) that comes out of the nose and mouth of someone who coughs or sneezes. If you are close enough to a person with the flu (3 - 6 feet) when they cough or sneeze, you can breathe in the virus and get sick. Flu symptoms start 1 - 4 days (usually 2 days) after a person breathes in the virus.
Flu is spread easily from person to person. The virus can also live for a short time on things you touch like doorknobs, phones and toys. After you touch these objects, you can catch the virus when you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Adults with flu can spread it from about one day before symptoms appear to about one week after. Children can spread the flu even longer after they get sick.
There are drugs available that your doctor may prescribe to treat flu. The drugs work best if started soon after symptoms begin. Your doctor can determine if you need treatment.
People sick with flu should make sure to drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods, wash their hands often and stay home to avoid spreading the flu to other people.
If you have fever with cough or sore throat, you may have the flu. If you think you have the flu, stay home from work and school and avoid contact with others so you do not spread the virus. If you think you might have flu and you need to see your doctor, call ahead and let them know you might have the flu. That way, your doctor’s office can take steps to avoid the spread of flu to others. The doctor may recommend that you be tested for flu.
Get flu vaccine every year as soon as it is available.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand gel.
Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inside of your elbow if you don’t have a tissue. Throw tissues away and wash your hands. Always wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Use household cleaners to clean things that are touched often, like door knobs, toys, and phones. Avoid close physical contact with people who are sick. Try to stay at least 3-6 feet from someone who is sick with the flu.
Stay home from work and school if you get sick with a flu-like illness (fever with cough or sore throat) and avoid contact with others so the virus does not spread. Stay at home until you have been free from fever for at least 24 hours. For most people this will mean staying at home for about 4 days.
This information has been provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health