Flu & You

— Written By Whitney Watson and last updated by Laura Oliver

Flu is a serious contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. How does flu spread? Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. A person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own eyes, mouth or nose.

How long can a sick person spread flu to others? People infected with flu shed virus and may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to about 5-7 days after getting sick. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems. This means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

How severe is illness associated with flu? Each flu season, different flu viruses spread and affect people differently based on their body’s ability to fight infection. Even healthy children and adults can get very sick from the flu and spread it to friends, co-workers, and family. In the United States, millions of people have to visit the doctor because of flu and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized from flu complications each year.

While flu can make anyone sick, certain people are at greater risk for severe illness resulting in hospitalization or death. This includes older adults, young children, people with certain long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, and women who are pregnant. (See “What should I do if I get sick?” for the full list of high risk factors.)

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick from flu? CDC recommends a three-step approach to fighting flu: vaccination, everyday preventive actions, and the correct use of antiviral drugs if your doctor recommends them.

A flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research indicates will be most common. Flu vaccines protect against three or four viruses; an H1N1, an H3N2, and one or two influenza B viruses, depending on the vaccine. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu each year. Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness. Vaccination also is important for health care workers, and those who live with or care for high risk people to keep from spreading flu to high risk people. Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for or live with them should be vaccinated to protect these babies.

Take everyday actions to help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever reducing medicine. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

To sign up to receive upcoming healthy living program information, call Whitney Watson, Martin County Family & Consumer Sciences Agent at (252) 789-4370.

The research based information in this article was sourced from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/updated/fluandyou_upright.pdf