How to Protect Yourself From the Flu and Norovirus
During the winter months, it can be difficult to stay healthy, especially when your family and friends get sick with the flu or the norovirus. Fortunately, Dr. Lavanya Jitendranath, a Middlesex Health infectious disease physician, offers some ways you can try to protect yourself.
Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses, and it usually comes on suddenly. Symptoms may include some or all of the following:
- Fever (or feeling feverish with chills)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
Flu season is usually between October and April, peaking in January and February. The flu is mainly spread by tiny droplets made when people who have the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The duration of the illness is typically between three and seven days, and it can cause severe complications – even death.
Dr. Jitendranath says getting a flu shot is the most important step in protecting yourself against the flu. Getting a flu shot now can still be beneficial!
To protect yourself from the flu, Dr. Jitendranath says you can also:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your shirtsleeve
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that could become contaminated with germs
- Stay home from work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone
The norovirus, often known as the stomach bug, is a very contagious virus. It is the most common cause of foodborne diarrhea and vomiting, and you can get it by having direct contact with someone who has the norovirus, by consuming contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces and then putting unwashed hands in your mouth.
Symptoms of the norovirus include:
- Sudden onset of nausea, vomiting and/or watery diarrhea with cramps
- Low-grade fever
- Chills and body aches
Dehydration is the most common complication of the norovirus, particularly among young children, older adults and people who have other illnesses. Most people who have the norovirus get better within one to three days.
To protect against the norovirus, Dr. Jitendranath says to:
- Wash your hands with soap and water
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them
- Stay home when sick and for two days after your symptoms stop
- Avoid preparing food for others when sick and for two days after symptoms stop
When to see your doctor
If you get the flu, stay home, rest and avoid contact with other people unless you are seeking medical care.
Most people who have the flu will not have complications and do not need to take antiviral medications. However, you should contact your doctor early in your illness if you are very sick, or in a high a high-risk group for complications. Those at high risk for complications include young children, adults older than 65, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions.
If you have the norovirus, Dr. Jitendranath’s best advice is to drink plenty of liquids to replace the fluid you are losing. Contact your doctor if you develop symptoms of dehydration, such as decreased urination, having a dry mouth and throat or feeling dizzy when standing up. Unlike the flu, there is no specific medicine to treat the norovirus.