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Flu Prevention

NightLight · April 27, 2022

What to do if you are ill, complications of the flu, and avoiding the flu without a flu shot

Ahh the flu. It’s a name we throw around a lot,  but do we all truly understand what ‘flu’ actually means and implies.

The flu is spread from person to person. Usually, people are already infectious one day before their symptoms even start. The flu virus spreads via droplets (coughs and snot).  People are most infective around the 3rd day of illness and while they are still having fevers. As long as they are coughing and having a runny nose, there is a virus traveling through their bodies. Good hand-washing is key! No kissing or sharing drinks either!

What should you do if you find yourself ill with the flu?

For most people, staying home and taking fever-reducers to keep comfortable and getting good hydration is enough to kick the flu.  While symptoms usually last 5-7 days, some people get better in 3 days while others feel the symptoms for up to 2 weeks.

For those who are younger or have a higher risk of infection, a medicine called Tamiflu can help. It is an antiviral, and attacks the flu virus specifically. It does have side effects and is costly, so discussing the pros and cons is an important conversation to have with your doctor. Remember that you do not need Tamiflu to get better, but it can help decrease the duration of symptoms.

The most important part is understanding the value of vaccinations. There are many reasons to get vaccinated. The vaccine  is made up of  proteins that train your body how to recognize and respond to the flu. As part of this training, your body gives an immune response that can give you flu-like symptoms or local reaction at the injection site, but these are short lived and less intense than a visit from the actual flu germ.

Some years the vaccine works very well at preventing you from getting the flu. Sometimes you can get the flu anyways but your immune system will be better equipped to fight it off if you have the vaccine ahead of time.

What are complications of the flu?

The flu can lead to a bacterial “super infection”. Examples would be pneumonia or ear infections. If you find yourself ill with the flu and getting worse for over a week or if you develop ear pain, then follow up with your doctor to make sure the flu has not turned into something else that would require a different treatment plan.

It is important  to be proactive by getting vaccinated, knowing how to avoid the flu, and identifying the symptoms as soon as possible so you can talk to your doctor and avoid passing it on to loved ones.

How to avoid the flu without a flu shot?

While the flu shot is still recommended for everyone, there are times when people cannot get the shot or it is delayed due to illness or short supply.

If you and your family are in this boat, here are some things that can help you avoid or fight off the flu.

  1. Wash your hands! Ever since humans realized hygiene was important for health (discovered two centuries ago by Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis), transmission of illness has gone down significantly. It is now one of the first things taught to medical students and posted in restaurant bathrooms across America.It is also one of the most basic principles of health.
  2. Be aware that people can have the flu up to 4 days before showing symptoms, and they will shed the virus as long as they are having a runny nose or cough.
  3. Because of #2, avoid people who have the sniffles or crowds where sick people may be if you can help it. Be aware you can never eliminate your exposure to it and there will always be a risk – whether through the grocery store, school, family members, or even doctor offices. Reduce your risk but you shouldn’t seal your child in a bubble either. Adjust according to age and medical history. For example, newborns are more vulnerable than older kids.
  4. Keep your immune system strong with good nutrition and rest. Make sure you’re getting your vitamins and sleep. Build up your defenses.
  5. Speaking of defense mechanisms, get the flu shot as soon as you can. While people who get the shot may still get the flu, they are better able to fight off the flu and avoid the serious complications of the flu than those who did not get the vaccine.

For more info, check out these resources: