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After 8 flu seasons, er, years in an emergency room, I feel like I’ve seen pretty much everything. Yes, everything.
In any case, I’ve worked through all sorts of injuries, traumas, and disease scares – including the dreaded swine flu. So take it from a nurse (who’s also a mom to 4 kiddos) who’s been in the trenches.
The flu (influenza, not the “stomach bug”) isn’t “no big deal”.
Flu symptoms (influenza) are easy to see and easy to miss
Okay, so cool trick real quick: part of the way that the CDC tracks the flu is by Google searches. Because unless you’re a nurse who’s writing about influenza, you’re probably not going to look it up unless you’re trying to figure out if you’ve got it (or someone in your family).
But if you do look up the most common influenza symptoms, here’s what the CDC lists:
- Fever and/or chills
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness, exhaustion)
- Vomiting & diarrhea (this is more common in kids, though, and rare in adults)
Now, when you keep in mind that not everyone who has the flu will get a fever, suddenly those symptoms are easy to mix with a cold. Especially if you don’t see flu all the time or aren’t sure if you were even exposed.
In fact, when my family came down with the flu this year, I thought it was just a nasty cold until the second kid got it. Then I recognized it for what it was – influenza.
The flu is a viral infection that’s highly contagious
Now, with the flu being officially a nationwide outbreak, it’s important to try to minimize your exposure to it. Because it’s highly, highly contagious.
There’s 2 main ways to do that.
The first is to get a yearly flu shot. It’ll help minimize your chances of getting it. And if you do catch it, it can help minimize the duration and severity of the sickness (in other words, you’ll be less sick than if you didn’t get the shot).
The other way to avoid getting influenza is to avoid everyone who’s sick or potentially sick (translation: avoid leaving the house) until influenza season is over. And since that’s usually sometime in April… well, it’s hard to do.
Here’s some other ways to try and avoid catching the flu:
- Wash your hands – especially before you eat.
- Don’t touch your face. Flu germs are everywhere, and you don’t want to give them easy access to your body.
- Sneeze into the crook of your elbow. It’s harder to touch stuff with your elbow, which means the germs are more contained.
- Avoid sick people. Reschedule – they’re too sick to complain anyway.
- If you’re sick, stay home! Keep those germs away from other people as much as you can.
- Don’t hesitate to see your doctor earlier than later – and if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution. The flu kills about 4,600 people per year.
Flu treatment is rest and “symptom management”
If you do manage to catch influenza this year (like a lot of us have!), treatment is usually “rest” and “symptom management.” I’d hope that “rest” is self-explanatory, because when you’re sick you don’t feel like doing much other than resting – or sleeping. Then, if you’ve got a fever, your doctor will likely advise you take something like Tylenol or ibuprofen to control the fever.
There’s a lot of medicine options out there, though, so make sure you ask your doctor.
And, while you’re talking to your doctor, if you do have influenza, they may recommend an antiviral like tamiflu. Antibiotics won’t help, but if you catch the flu early, an antiviral can make life a ton less miserable.
A word of caution, though… some years where the flu is crazy all-over, those antivirals can be in short supply. Which means they may be kept in reserve for those most at-risk (elderly, babies, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients)…
At least that’s how it was back when we were all certain that the swine flu was going to cause a zombie apocalypse. I’d hope that they’ve improved the supply chain since then… *shrug*