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Ask the Pharmacist - Influenza

 

I hear a lot of talk about the flu season, but I don’t really know what that means. Is that the only time I can get the flu?

 

This is a great question.  In the United States, the flu season peaks from December through March. This means that these are the months when the influenza virus (commonly called the flu) is spread the most. While you can get the flu anytime, you are more likely to be infected with the virus during these months.

 

How is the virus spread?

 

The influenza virus is spread from person to person, usually when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is often referred to as droplet spread, because respiratory droplets from an infected person are propelled, then breathed in through the mouths or noses of those nearby. Sometimes the virus is spread by touching a contaminated surface.  An adult can spread the infection one day before symptoms occur and up to seven days after symptoms occur.

 

How do I know if I have the flu?

 

Symptoms usually occur within one to four days after a person is infected.  Since influenza is a virus of the upper respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs), there are a variety of symptoms and not everyone gets the same combination of symptoms.  Possible symptoms include: fever, dry cough, sore throat, fatigue, muscle ache, headaches, runny nose and chills.  These symptoms usually come on suddenly, and are severe. However, because other respiratory viruses have some of the same or similar symptoms, it is impossible to confirm a diagnosis of the influenza virus without laboratory testing.

 

Is the flu dangerous?

 

For most people who are healthy, influenza represents a few days of discomfort and few if any complications. However, for people with chronic illnesses, and those aged 65 and older, serious complications can occur that can require hospitalization and possibly cause death.

 

Is vomiting part of the flu?

 

Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be associated with the influenza virus, especially in children. However, the flu does not typically cause these symptoms for adults.  If you experience these symptoms, they could be caused by other viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

 

Will antibiotics cure the flu?

 

Influenza is a specific virus. It is not a bacterial infection.  Antibiotics like penicillin cure bacterial infections but will not cure any virus.  There is currently no cure for the influenza virus, but vaccines are available.

 

How can I avoid getting the flu?

 

  • Frequent hand-washing with warm soapy water for 15-20 seconds or using alcohol based hand rubs can help prevent the spread of the virus. 
  • Teaching your family to cover their mouths and noses when they cough and sneeze will also reduce the spread of the disease. 
  • Get a flu shot in October or November (before the peak season arrives).  Flu shots are especially important for people over 65 years in age, who are pregnant, or who have a chronic illness. Flu shots will prevent most people from getting the flu for one year. If you do get the flu, your symptoms should be milder.

Source: WebMD    If you have specific questions about influenza or the flu vaccine contact your doctor or pharmacist.


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