If you suddenly develop a fever of 100.4 F or higher, extreme fatigue, aching muscles, a headache and a dry cough, chances are you have the flu. If these symptoms occur during January or February, or if you have been exposed to someone with the flu, the likelihood of flu is even greater.
When to See a Doctor
By recognizing the first signs of the flu and seeing your doctor within the first 48 hours, you may receive medication that will shorten the illness and lessen its symptoms. If you are an older adult, if you have other medical conditions or if your symptoms are severe, see a doctor even if you cannot get there within the first 48 hours. A potential danger of the flu is that it can turn into pneumonia. Those symptoms include coughing that produces phlegm and sharp pain when breathing deeply. See a doctor immediately if those symptoms develop.
To treat symptoms at home get at least seven hours of sleep nightly and drink water, tea, broth or juice until your urine is pale or clear. The aches and pains of the flu may be helped by Tylenol, Advil or Motrin. Stay warm and avoid dry air. Flu is highly contagious, so limit your contact with others.
Influenza (flu) is a virus that attacks the respiratory system. Each year in the United States more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications, and 36,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The best way to prevent flu is to get a flu shot annually, avoid contact with people who are infected and wash your hands. Routine physical activity and a healthy diet also will help to strengthen your immunity.
There are three categories of viruses that cause influenza, known as Types A, B and C. Type C poses the lowest threat, in that it is stable and we know how to treat it. Types A and B change constantly, making them more difficult to prevent and treat. Type B tends to have small outbreaks, and medicine can usually stay ahead of it by adjusting the flu vaccine annually. Type A occurs every one to two generations and can be devastating. The worst outbreak we have seen in the United States was in 1918 and killed 50 million people worldwide.
How Flu Spreads
Influenza spreads through the air and lives on surfaces. Infected people emit the virus through sneezing, coughing or even talking. You may inhale the virus directly or touch a surface the virus landed and then touch your face. People who are at high risk for influenza should be especially careful to avoid becoming contaminated. They include people with diabetes, people with lung, heart or kidney disease, people with HIV, people over 50 years old, pregnant women and health care workers.