Winter is here—and so is the flu.
Flu season usually begins in October and stretches through April, peaking in January and February. It can be difficult to stay healthy throughout these winter months, but there are precautions you can take to protect yourself from this contagious respiratory illness.
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 illness usually comes on suddenly, and symptoms include: a fever (or feeling feverish with chills); a cough; a sore throat; a runny or stuffy nose; muscle or body aches; headaches; fatigue (tiredness); and vomiting and diarrhea. The duration of the illness is typically between three and seven days, and it can cause severe complications—even death.
If you haven’t already, get your flu shot! That is the best way to protect yourself against the flu, and you can get the shot at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy. People over age 65 can receive a high dose flu vaccine, which offers even more protection for them.
You can also protect yourself by:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Covering your coughs or sneezes with a tissue or a shirt sleeve
- Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that could be contaminated with germs
- Staying home from work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone
What to do if you get the flu
If you do get the flu, be sure to stay home, rest and avoid contact with other people unless you are seeking medical care. Most people will not have complications and will not need to take antiviral medications.
However, you should call a doctor early in your illness if you are very sick, or if you have a high risk for complications. Young children, adults older than 65, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions are considered at high risk for complications from the flu.