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Photo by Fritz Rethage  ·    Posted December 26, 2005

Flu Season Information

Marilyn deRussy, Secretary of the Hasbrouck Heights Health Department, offers this information about the flu season.

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall, but good health habits and antiviral medications are other measures that can help protect against the flu.

Good Health Habits

Good health habits are also an important way to help prevent the flu.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

• If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

• Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

How Flu Spreads

Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing.

They usually spread from person to person, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.

That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Influenza Viruses

Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious disease that is caused by the influenza virus.

It attacks the respiratory tract in humans (nose, throat, and lungs). The flu is different from a cold.

Influenza usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms: fever, headache, tiredness (can be extreme), dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches .

These symptoms are usually referred to as "flu-like symptoms."

"Anyone can get the flu, but the disease is more severe for some people," said Mrs. deRussy.

Most people who get influenza will recover in one to two weeks.

But some people will develop life-threatening complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu.

Millions of people in the United States — about 5% to 20% of U.S. residents — will get influenza each year.

An average of about 36,000 people per year in the United States die from influenza, and more than 200,000 have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza.

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age.

People age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications from influenza.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are three examples of complications from flu.

The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may have worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

The Flu Season

In the northern hemisphere, winter is the time for flu. In the United States, the flu season can range from November through March, and even past March in some years.

During the past 21 flu seasons, months with the heaviest flu activity (peak months) occurred in December in four years, January in five years, February in nine years, and March in three years.

What You Should Do If You Get the Flu

Mrs. deRussy offers these suggestions: rest, drink plenty of liquids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco and take medication to relieve the symptoms of flu.

Influenza is caused by a virus, so antibiotics (like penicillin) don’t work to cure it.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get an influenza vaccine (flu shot) each fall, before flu season.

Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms – and particularly fever – without first speaking to your doctor.

Giving aspirin to children and teenagers who have influenza can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye’s Syndrome.

Children or teenagers with the flu should get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids, and take medicines that contain no aspirin to relieve symptoms.

The Myth of the "Stomach Flu"

Many people use the term "stomach flu" to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria, or even parasites.

While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or "sick to your stomach" can sometimes be related to the flu – particularly in children – these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza.

The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.

Questions & Answers

Can herbal, homeopathic or other folk remedies protect against the flu? There is no scientific evidence that any herbal, homeopathic or other folk remedies have any benefit against influenza.

How long can human influenza viruses remain viable on inanimate items (such as books and doorknobs)? Studies have shown that human influenza viruses generally can survive on surfaces between two and eights hours.

What kills influenza virus? Influenza virus is destroyed by heat (167-212°F [75-100°C]). In addition, several chemical germicides, including chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents (soap), iodophors (iodine-based antiseptics), and alcohols are effective against influenza viruses if used in proper concentration for sufficient length of time.

For example, wipes or gels with alcohol in them can be used to clean hands. The gels should be rubbed until they are dry. ###


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