The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared this flu season an epidemic. A flu breakout qualifies as an epidemic when the number of cases increases quickly and infects more people than normally expected. The flu epidemic has touched every state in the continental U.S. and began earlier than past flu seasons. Massive numbers of people are flocking to doctor's offices and hospitals for treatment, and the flu is contributing to an average of 4,000 deaths a week. Unfortunately, there are still many weeks left in this year's peak flu season, and the flu epidemic may continue through May. It's more important than ever to get the facts about the flu.
Why is flu season in the winter?
Before we can understand how to prevent and treat the flu, we must understand why the flu is most common during this time of the year. When the weather outside becomes frightful, people are indoors more and within close proximity to each other. When somebody with the flu coughs, sneezes, or even speaks, the particles are transported through the air. Once the weather becomes chilly and most people gather indoors, a much larger portion of the population become more susceptible to being in the path of the flu-contaminated particles.
Why is the flu so dangerous?
The body aches, fever, congestion, and fatigue of the flu can make you feel miserable. For most people, this an illness they recover from with proper treatment. For others, inflammation can occur in their chest causing pneumonia which can be deadly. In some instances, the bodies natural response to fighting the flu can overwhelm the body and cause sepsis. Sepsis occurs when chemicals in the bloodstream that should be fighting infection cause massive inflammation instead. This can then lead to organ failure and septic shock.
Do I Have the Flu?
Several other illnesses besides the flu are at their peak during the winter season. However, there are various symptoms to be aware of that may indicate that you have more than the common cold. Beware of the following symptoms:
- Muscle Aches
- A fever over 100.4 F
- Chills and sweats
- Persistent coughing
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
Avoiding the Flu
You can begin taking immediate action even before your symptoms occur. You can prevent the spread of the flu through five easy steps:
- Get your flu shot
- Wash your hands
- Cover your cough – cough into the bend of your elbow, not into your hands!
- Avoid touching open areas of the body such as the mouth and eyes
- Avoid crowds when possible
Talk to Your Doctor
If you develop flu symptoms, don't panic! There are steps to take when you first notice the symptoms to decrease the life of the flu. Talk to your doctor about your specific symptoms and their severity. Your physician may prescribe medications or another course of treatment. The sooner you contact your doctor, the better! Early detection is key when treating the flu.
Some symptoms are especially dangerous during the flu season. If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. The flu can be life-threatening if left untreated, so don't delay in seeking medical attention. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Trouble breathing
- Pressure in the stomach or chest
- Feel confused
- Can't stop vomiting
Determining how to treat the flu is best left to your doctor's expertise. Depending on your specific situation, taking an antiviral medication within the first 48 hours of noticing flu symptoms may make the symptoms less severe. Taking this precaution may also shorten the duration of the flu by 1-2 days. Even if you miss your 48-hour window of opportunity, an antiviral may lessen the severity of the illness.
In other cases, over-the-counter medication may be best in helping with relief. It's important to stay hydrated, monitor your fever, and check back with your doctor if your symptoms get worse. It's also best to avoid contact with others during your illness to avoid infecting others.