Remember the seasonal flu? That annoying bug that went around every winter, usually peaking January to March, that took you down for at least a few days with a cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue and more? Although COVID-19 has been our main focus the last couple of winters, the seasonal flu is still around. Now that people are gathering in-person–at schools, workplaces, personal gatherings and more–and may have let their guard down in terms of disease transmission, it’s important to remember that the flu bug can still bite.
Influenza (the flu) is a virus that spreads from person-to-person through the air and on hard surfaces, as well as in droplets from sneezes and coughs. Most people recover from the flu in a week or two, but for some people the flu can be very serious and deadly. Those most at risk are people 65 and over, pregnant women, young children, those with weak immune systems due to disease or medication and those with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Complications for high-risk people include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections or worsening of their asthma or chronic heart disease.
To reduce the likelihood of getting the flu, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recommends a flu vaccine for everyone over the age of six months. There are many strains of the flu and they are always changing so each year’s flu vaccine is designed to protect against three or four of the strains most likely to cause the disease that season. Even when the vaccine doesn’t exactly match a strain, it may provide some protection and reduce the severity of the flu. It can also help prevent you from spreading it to your family and other people.
Beyond getting the flu vaccine, OHA reminds people that there are simple ways to reduce the spread. Wash your hands often and use alcohol-based sanitizer when soap isn’t available. Limit close contact with sick people and if you’re sick, limit your contact with others. Cover your nose and mouth then you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Clean and disinfect surfaces.
If you do contract the flu, rest, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and take acetaminophen or aspirin for fever. Stay at home and avoid contact with others. In severe cases, emergency care may be needed and antiviral drugs may be recommended.
Signs that children should be taken for emergency care include fast or troubled breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, not waking up or interacting, fever above 104 degrees and fever with a rash. In adults, seek help if there is difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion or severe or persistent vomiting. In both children and adults, the return of flu-like symptoms with a fever and worse cough after they appear to be improving, indicate the need for medical attention.
Cases of respiratory viruses–especially the flu–continue to put a strain on hospitals. Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, says, “Using common-sense approaches for preventing these viruses can keep you safe and that reduces demand for scarce hospital beds.”