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IntroductionInfluenza FAQ's

What is the flu?

How does flu spread?

How long does it take to develop symptoms after being exposed?

What are the symptoms of the flu?

How severe is illness associated with the flu?

How long can I expect the flu to last?

How long can a sick person spread flu to others?

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick from the flu?


What is the flu?

Influenza, or “Flu,” is a serious, contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Flu is caused by three types of influenza viruses, Types A, B, or C. The A and B viruses cause epidemics (widespread outbreaks in a country) of injection in people every year in the United States. Influenza A can cause moderate to severe illness in all age groups, and infects humans and other animals. Subtypes of type A that have been found in people worldwide include H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2 viruses. Influenza B causes milder disease and affects only humans, primarily children. Influenza C generally causes mild respiratory illnesses and are not thought to cause epidemics.

Flu viruses are constantly changing, and in 2009-2010, a new and very different flu virus called “2009 H1N1” spread worldwide, causing the first pandemic in more than 40 years. A global pandemic (worldwide outbreak) can happen if three conditions are met:

1. A new subtype of type A virus is introduced into the human population
2. The virus causes serious illness in humans
3. The virus can spread easily from person-to-person in a sustained manner.

The 2009 H1N1 met all three conditions and caused a worldwide outbreak. In late spring 2009, the WHO declared that a H1N1 flu pandemic was underway. Over a year later, on August 10, 2010, WHO declared that the world was in a post-pandemic stage.

Flu is unpredictable, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects the 2009 H1N1 virus to continue to spread in upcoming flu seasons, along with other seasonal flu viruses.


How does flu spread?

Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people infected with influenza 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 touching their own eyes, mouth or nose.


How long does it take to develop symptoms after being exposed?

The incubation period of influenza is usually two days but can range from 1-4 days.


What are the symptoms of the flu?

Symptoms for a cold and the flu can be very similar, but unlike other viral respiratory illnesses whose symptoms appear gradually over several days, symptoms of influenza generally appear very suddenly and with great intensity. Early symptoms of influenza may include:

  • Abrupt onset of high fever, sometimes up to 105° *
  • Drenching sweats and shaking chills
  • Aching muscles and general body ache
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Cough, usually by the second day, generally non-productive and painful to the chest, throat, and head
  • General weakness, including lightheadedness and faintness
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hyper-sensitivity of skin to touch
  • Brief diarrhea or vomiting may occur

Typical influenza disease does not occur in every infected person. Someone who has been previously exposed to similar virus strains (through natural infection or through vaccination) is less likely to develop serious clinical illness.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.


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 health children and adults can get very sick from the flu and spread it to friends, co-workers, and family. In the United States, thousands of healthy adults and children have to visit the doctor or are hospitalized from flu complication 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 conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease and women who are pregnant.


How long can I expect the flu to last?

Influenza is a self-limiting virus, meaning that it lasts for a period of time and then clears up. Early symptoms, including fever, may last from 3 to 6 days. Weakness, light-headedness, and cough may persist for 1 to 2 weeks longer. Cough is usually the last symptom to disappear.

Sometimes health complications may develop, such as sinusitis or pneumonia, that may require medical attention. See your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe earache
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Severe head or neck pain
  • Skin rash
  • Fever >101° for more than 3 days


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.


What can I do to protect myself from getting sick from the flu?

CDC recommends a three-step approach to fighting the flu:

1. Vaccination: 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 three viruses that research indicates will be most common.
  • Protection develops about 2 weeks after the shot is received and may last up to one year.
  • 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 healthcare 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.

2. Take everyday actions to build your immune system and help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • 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.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading flu to others.
  • Get adequate amounts of sleep to enable the immune system to fight potential infections.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet to ensure that you are getting the vitamins and minerals your immune system needs to function optimally.
  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke, as that makes the lungs more susceptible to respiratory infections and illness.
  • Manage your stress levels. Built up over time, stress hormones break down the immune system. Minimize and release stress through coping strategies and relaxation techniques.
  • Move your body, as moderate levels of physical activity release hormones that boost the immune system and relieve excess stress.
  • Balance work with play, as making time for activities and people you enjoy strengthens the immune system by reducing stress and improving emotional health.

3. Use appropriate self-care remedies and take the flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

  • If you get the flu, antiviral drugs may be prescribed by a healthcare provider. These drugs can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick.
  • Antiviral drugs work best when started in the first 2 days of symptoms to treat people who are very sick (such as those who are hospitalized) or people who are sick with flu symptoms and who are at increased risk of severe flu illness.
  • Increase hour of rest and sleep.
    • Reducing activity demands upon your body allows for more energy to be directed toward ridding the body of the virus.
  • Drink increased amounts of fluid.
    • Fluids, either hot or cold, help thin and loosen mucous, making it easier for the body to get rid of it.
    • Try for at least 10-12 cups of water, juice, herbal tea, soup or broth daily. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take hot showers or use a humidifier.
    • Inhaling moist, warm air provides decongestant relief and alleviates the pain of a raw, scratchy throat.
    • Be sure to clean the humidifier regularly to avoid buildup of bacteria or fungi.
  • Gargle with warm salt water.
    • Gargling at least 4 times per day with a mixture of 1 teaspoon salt to 8oz. warm water helps to reduce pain, swelling and irritation of the throat.
  • Suck on a piece of hard candy or throat lozenge.
    • This soothes the throat by keeping it moist.
  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke exposure.
    • Inhaling smoke will further irritate the respiratory tract.
  • Take over-the-counter medication appropriately.
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil) reduce fever and relieve muscle ache and headaches.
    • Aspirin is discouraged for viral illnesses due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome.
    • Cough Medicine:
      • Expectorants loosen congestion in the respiratory tract.
      • Suppressants reduce the frequency of coughing
    • Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylpropanolamine relieve sinus congestion. Side effects may include insomnia and nervousness.

For questions regarding prescription or over-the-counter medications, consult a Campus Health Pharmacist at (520) 621-6516, or consult a Campus Health Provider at (520) 621-9200.

 
     
 
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