Influenza (also known as the flu) seems to be extraordinary bad this winter. Symptoms include fever, cough, headaches, chills, body aches, a sore throat and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea are usually not reported with a respiratory flu. However, the drainage from the sinus cavities and mucus production can cause an upset tummy. The illness lasts from one to two weeks depending on the health of the individual and if treatment is started with antiviral medications.
It is important to remember that the common cold has many of the same symptoms. However, the onset of the flu is usually much more severe and quicker than with the common cold. You go to bed with mild symptoms in the evening and wake up with the full blown flu the next morning. Cold symptoms last about 7 days with a gradual onset and the decrease of symptoms.
It is important to remember that flu is not a rare illness. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from a case of the flu each year.
Flu is similar to a cold virus in that it is typically spread from one person to another when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can pass through an infected person’s lungs, throat or nose, sending particles into the air that can pass to anyone that person comes in close contact with. The range to pass the infection is from 3 to 6 feet.
Being out in a crowd increases your chances of being infected, because the more people you’re exposed to the higher the probability that several of them have the beginning stages of the flu. Additionally the closer people are next to each other the less distance the virus has to travel when airborne.
Being in an airplane in the closed environment with someone who has the flu makes it more likely the flu spreads to the other passengers. Transportation by bus or subway increases the close approximation between passengers.
The other main way the virus spreads is from touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose. An individual infected with the virus can start transmitting it up to a day before the symptoms start, and up to a week after the symptoms become noticeable, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The flu virus remains active for up to 24 hours on hard surfaces and about 12 hours on soft surfaces. You may pick up the flu virus if you touch the contaminated surface and then touch your face.
Preventing the Spread of the Flu
For the sake of our own health and others, we all have a responsibility to prevent the spread of flu, or any other type of disease for that matter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to figure out what to do. Most of the steps are common sense. From 5 to 20% of the population in the US comes down with the flu every year. While most of us get through the flu just fine, it can be a serious disease for the young and old.
Cover your nose or mouth when you sneeze or cough, so you trap the virus particles in the tissue rather than expelling them into the air. Then make sure you dispose of the tissue so it won’t spread the virus on any other surface. The flu virus is spread within a a 3 to 6 foot diameter when you sneeze so trapping the virus in a tissue eliminates that possibility.
After you sneeze or cough, wash your hands with soap and water. Or if you are not near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Get in the habit of carrying these hand sanitizers with you, in the car, in your pocket or in your purse. Wash or disinfect your hands when out in the public and touching door knobs, shopping cart handles or other items that other people touch.
Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes. If you have touched any object contaminated with the virus, you may end up contaminating yourself. Your eyes, nose and mouth are the easiest pathways to infection by the flu virus.
If you’re sick stay home from work and away from other people. You may think that you’re being Mr. Tough Guy by going into work, but you won’t be working at full capacity when you’re sick and you’ll be spreading the flu virus. If your child becomes sick keep them home from school until their symptoms have subsided. You can spread the flu from a day or so before you exhibit symptoms until you’re well. Most flu symptoms last from one to two weeks.
The medical community encourages everyone to get a flu vaccine every year. The virus mutates a bit from year to year so last year’s immunization may not protect you from this year’s virus. The vaccine isn’t always effective. About 40 to 60% of the population that get vaccinated still get the flu. However, it’s usually is a milder case and doesn’t last as long.
Hand Washing Number 1 in Preventing the Flu
No one likes to be sick with a bad case of the flu but it happens. While you’d have to lock yourself in an air bubble away from other people to guarantee that you won’t get sick from the flu, there are ways to decrease your chances of becoming infected. Frequent hand washing is one of the easiest measures you can take to reduce your chance of coming down with the flu.
During the day we all touch dozens of surfaces that may have the flu virus on them: doorknobs, grocery cart handles, computer mouse and keyboards, cell phones and telephones—the list is endless. The virus remains active on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. And don’t think that if no one in your family is exhibiting flu symptoms, you’re in the clear. You can be contagious for a couple of days before you become sick.
Wash your hands with hot soapy water, dry with a paper towel and throw the towel away. When in public restrooms, be careful of the surfaces you touch. If the restroom has a hot air hand dryer use that instead of paper towels. Antibacterial soap isn’t necessary as the flu is caused by a virus not bacteria. It won’t be killed by the soap. It will be destroyed by the hot water and the friction from rubbing your hands together with the soap.
If soap and water isn’t available use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Again rubbing causes friction and that friction kills the virus. Don’t dry the hand sanitizer off with a paper towel. Let your hands dry naturally. That gives the alcohol more time to work.
It is important to instruct children in these preventive measures as well. Children come in contact with more potential sources of germs, including flu viruses, than adults do. Not only do they have a classroom of up to 40 other children but they make contact with other children at lunch time and on the playground.
The immune systems of children aren’t as developed as adults so they get sick more often. Teaching your child to wash their hands often is one of the best ways to prevent them from becoming ill. Give each child their own bottle of hand sanitizer to carry with them, if it’s allowed by the school rules.
If you conscientiously wash your hands after touching potentially contaminated surfaces you and your family may be able to squeak through this flu season without becoming ill.