Your head is pounding, your nose is running and you can’t stop coughing. You’re exhausted and you hurt all over, and perhaps you have body chills. Does this sound familiar? Well, it might be the flu.
These symptoms are caused by the influenza virus, which tends to make the rounds between fall and spring. Although most recover, the flu has the potential to make some people seriously sick. Young children, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly are especially vulnerable.
Here are some strategies to prevent infection and advice for what to do if you become ill.
Get some rest
You are more likely to catch a cold if you allow yourself to get run down. Sleep strengthens your immune system. On average, adults need 7-8 hours a day and teens and children need 10 or more hours of sleep.
Wash your hands
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use a sanitizing gel before you eat or drink and after you use the bathroom. Be sure to wash thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Get the flu vaccine
You should get the vaccine every year as it is continuously re-designed to protect you against the most current strains of influenza, ranging from the seasonal flu to more dangerous strains like H1N1. Also, the body’s immunity to the virus declines over time, which is another reason why it is important to keep going back yearly for vaccination.
What to do if you get the flu
Keep your distance
The flu virus is spread through droplets of moisture when people cough, sneeze or talk. The virus can travel up to six feet, so cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue to avoid spreading the flu. It is advisable to stay at home during the initial stages of the flu to avoid making your colleagues or others around you ill. The flu can be contagious for 1-4 days before symptoms are noticeable, and another 5-7 days afterwards.
Sanitize your stuff
The influenza virus is a tough bug. It can survive on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. Clean and disinfect your surroundings and the things you use often, like your cell phone or laptop. Linens and dishes should be thoroughly washed before anyone else uses them.
Visit your doctor
Most coughs and colds will pass with time, but if these symptoms come on suddenly, and are combined with aching, headaches or a fever, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Antiviral medication works best within 48 hours of getting sick.