If you're suffering from a fever, body aches, chills, or a bad cough, you're not alone.
Seasonal flu cases are spiking throughout the area and sending an increasing number of people to area emergency doctors' offices and the Emergency Department for relief.
"Influenza, commonly called the flu, has hit Ohio earlier than usual," explained Family Medicine physician Michael Sevilla, M.D. "The Ohio Department of Health confirmed 863 cases of influenza-like illnesses requiring hospitalization statewide, as compared to just 65 cases during the same period in early January 2012. Our area is seeing a significant number of cases of influenza types A and B, which are causing fever, respiratory symptoms and diarrhea."
People infected with the seasonal flu may be able to infect others anywhere from one day before getting sick to five to seven days afterward.
However, some people-including children as well as adults with weakened immune systems-may remain contagious for up 14 days after they start to feel sick. In general, the risk of spreading the flu is greatest when a person's symptoms are at their worst, because levels of the virus are likely to be at their highest point. Later in the disease, the body's immune system decreases the risk of infection. But the infected person should still be considered contagious for up to one week after the illness starts (for most adults) or for up to two weeks in the case of children and people with a weakened immune system.
"Flu is mainly an airborne infection," Dr. Sevilla added. "This means that a person with the virus can transmit the disease from a distance of up to six feet through airborne droplets released when he or she coughs, sneezes, or talks. Other people catch the flu if the droplets land on their mouth or nose or if they inhale the infected spray. You can also catch the disease by touching something that an infected person has contaminated either by handling it, such as a phone or doorknob, or by coughing or sneezing near the object."
Is it a Cold or the Flu?
"Patients sometimes can't determine if they have the flu or if they are suffering from a common cold or other viral infections," Dr. Sevilla continued. "Fever, headache, fatigue, the chills and soreness in the joints are common symptoms of the flu. However, other symptoms include a dry cough, sore throat, runny nose or congestion, which can be mistaken for a cold.
"Individuals who suspect that they have the flu should see a doctor as soon as possible, preferably within a day of the onset of symptoms. A physician can perform simple testing to provide a quick diagnosis and help determine the best course of treatment. Individuals in high risk groups, such as the elderly, children or pregnant women, may require prescription antiviral medications, while most people who are otherwise in good health can begin comfort measures to help relieve their symptoms at home."
Caring for the Flu at Home
"Over-the-counter medications containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help ease body aches and reduce fever," Dr. Sevilla suggested. "Be sure to follow your physician's advice regarding the use of over-the-counter medications, and be careful not to duplicate medicines containing the same active ingredient. In addition, never give aspirin to children under the age of 18."
Other home remedies include drinking plenty of water and clear liquids to avoid dehydration. A healthy diet will also help your immune system fight off the illness, as will plenty of rest and staying home to avoid infecting others. If possible, minimize close contact with others in your household so that you don't spread the virus.
Watch for Flu Complications
"The duration of the flu varies depending on the person's ability to fight off the infection," he stated. "The illness can last anywhere from a few days to less than two weeks. Flu sufferers should not hesitate to call their doctor for follow-up care if they believe other problems are developing. Pneumonia is a serious complication that may require hospitalization. There may be cause for concern if a cough, fever or shortness of breath persists. Bronchitis, ear infections and sinus infections are other potential flu complications.
"Older patients, even if they get the influenza vaccine, may not be entirely protected against influenza. In addition, older patients tend to have a variety of other illnesses that can be aggravated by any infection, particularly an influenza infection."
Want to Stay Healthy?
Dr. Sevilla offers these tips for avoiding the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based product.
- Wipe down shared work or household objects such as telephones, keyboards, computer mice, and TV and stereo remote controls with a disinfectant.
- Try to avoid people who are sick.
- Get a flu shot. This year's vaccine matches the virus going around and can help prevent getting the flu, or if you do, it can lessen the severity of your illness.
Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?
"Getting a seasonal flu vaccine is still the best way to avoid getting sick. Flu season can last until May, so it's still not too late to get a flu shot," Dr. Sevilla concluded.
"Contrary to common belief, even healthy, young people should get the vaccine. The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months receive a seasonal flu shot. Very young children, pregnant women, individuals suffering from chronic health conditions such as diabetes, or lung and heart disease, and those over the age of 65, are at the greatest risk for influenza complications."
For more information about the flu, including a videotaped interview with Dr. Sevilla about this topic, please go to Salem Community Hospital's website at www.salemhosp.com.
Michael Sevilla, M.D., is a Family Medicine physician affiliated with the medical staff of Salem Community Hospital and the Family Practice Center of Salem, 2370 Southeast Boulevard, 330-332-9961.