Facts about the Flu
Each year there is a “flu season” and Rutgers students are not immune. Over 20% of Rutgers students report missed assignments and lower grades due to colds and flu (Rutgers University National College Health Assessment, 2010). It is important to know the facts about the flu. The following information is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Go to http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm to see the full content and additional information.
Facts about the Flu
According to the CDC, the flu is a contagious, respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses (there are more than one) that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The flu can cause mild to severe illnesses. Flu outbreaks usually occur in the late fall and winter.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Experts agree 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. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. There are two types of flu vaccines:
- “Flu shots” are inactivated vaccines (containing killed virus) that are given with a needle. The regular seasonal flu shot is “intramuscular” which means it is injected into muscle (usually in the upper arm). It has been used for decades and is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine — a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy* people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common.
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September, or as soon as vaccine is available, and continue throughout the flu season which can last as late as May. This is because the timing and duration of flu seasons vary. While flu season can begin early as October, most of the time seasonal flu activity peaks in January, February or later.
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications.
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives seem to be at higher risk of flu complications
- People who have medical conditions including:
- Asthma (even if it’s controlled or mild)
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury] o Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater)
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
- Health care workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
- Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 5 years of age with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children younger than 6 months of age (children younger than 6 months are at highest risk of flu-related complications but are too young to get vaccinated)
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. They include:
People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
- Children younger than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for use in this age group).
- People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.
- People with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine and who are not at risk for severe illness from influenza should generally not receive vaccine. Tell your doctor if you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Your doctor will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you.
Uncomplicated flu usually lasts 7-10 days (but may last longer). Complications can occur if you get an infection, which may cause pneumonia, sinusitis or ear infections. These complications may even appear after you start to feel better. Look for: high fever, shaking chills, chest pain while breathing, and coughing thick, yellow/greenish mucous.
- Reduce your fever with aspirin substitute.
- Rest, to prevent complications and reduce infecting others.
- Hydrate – drink 10-12 glasses of water or broth daily.
- Eat lightly – juice, toast, and other bland food (rice, cooked cereal, baked potatoes).
- Soothe your sore throat by gargling with ½ tsp. of sale in a glass of warm water, or suck ice chips or lozenges.
- Stop smoking.
- Increase the humidity in your room with a cool vaporizer or steam humidifier.
- Warm your aching muscles with a heating pad.
Cover your coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues. Wash your hands frequently. Keep your drinking glasses and towels separate from others. Stay out of crowded situations.
- Fever over 101°F for more than 48 hours
- Severe sore throat, or lasting more than 3 days
- Tonsils enlarged or with white spots
- Swollen glands
- Chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing cough
- Severe headache or facial pain not relieved by aspirin substitute
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Cough lasting a week longer than other flu symptoms, or pain in your chest and/or back.
- History of rheumatic fever, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or other chronic illness and think you are getting the flu