While flu in the US usually peaks around January or February, the outbreak can occur any time from October through March. On average every year 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu; 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications; and about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes, according to the CDC.
When To See The Doctor
Often it is not necessary to see your doctor when you have the flu or cold. However, if you suspect the flu, it won't hurt to give your doctor a call to see if they think an antiviral such as Tamiflu or Relenza would help you recover faster or suffer less.
WebMD identifies these reasons to contact your healthcare professional because such symptoms could indicate a secondary infection or complication:
- Your fever returns.
- Your fever lasts for longer than three days.
- You have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- You cannot stop vomiting and can't keep liquids down.
- You wheeze when you breathe.
- Your flu symptoms are worsening each day.
Additionally, it would be wise to contact your doctor if you get the flu and also have any of these or other chronic conditions:
- Heart Disease
The CDC also recommends a visit to the doctor if any of the following emergency warning signs are present:
In children --
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
In adults --
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Stop Germs To Stay Healthier
The common cold and influenzas are viruses, one of the four major types of germs. Viruses are most commonly dispersed through sneezes and coughs that produce tiny droplets containing germs. "Droplet spread" travels by air from person to person or lands on surfaces where they are picked up when we touch them. Germs can live for several hours on surfaces like clothing, counters, desks, keyboards, and doorknobs. They live longer on hard surfaces than on fabric. By avoiding these germs, you can increase your chances of avoiding a cold or the flu.
Good general health practices to prevent illness:
- Wash your hands well. Everyone agrees that hand-washing is the single most important way to avoid germs. However, this does not mean passing your hands under running water every now and then. For real efficiency in hand washing:
- Let the water get warm
- Soap up between fingers, on fronts and backs of hands and under fingernails.
- Rinse under warm or hot water.
- You should be able to sing Happy Birthday twice or the Alphabet song once if you are washing an adequate amount of time. This is a good way to teach kids.
- At home, wash hand towels in hot water every three or four days. Do not share towels If someone is sick.
- Away from home, dry your hands with a paper towel. Make sure you don't have to touch the towel dispenser after washing.
- Take the paper towel you just used and turn off the water and open the restroom door with it - then discard it.
- Wash your hands often and especially before meals, after handling animals, after touching public surfaces, after using the bathroom, and as soon as you enter your home after school, play, other activities, or work.
- Keep hand sanitizer close by for times when you can't get to soap and water.
- Keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth. All three are portals for germs to enter your body.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing. If you need to sneeze or cough, use a tissue that you immediately discard or use your inner elbow. If you sneeze or cough directly into your hands, you should wash them right away to avoid spreading germs.
- Stay home. Avoid crowds and people who are coughing and sneezing. If you are sick, be considerate of others by staying home, and hope they will return the favor. The 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.)
Keep the sick person's toothbrush separate from everyone else's. Give it a good soak in boiling water or run it through the dishwasher after the illness is no longer contagious to get rid of any lingering germs or viruses - or simply replace it.
Fight Germs At Home To Help Keep The Family Well
One of the toughest challenges faced by families is keeping an illness from making its rounds through kids and parents and maybe even starting over. Once someone is sick, try the following tips to help prevent the rampage of germs through the entire family (based on suggestions from the CDC):
- Wash your hand towels in hot water every three or four days during cold and flu season.
- If possible, create a sick room. If there is more than one sick person, they can share the sick room if needed.
- If you have more than one bathroom, have sick people use one bathroom and well people use the other one.
- Do not share drinking glasses, washcloths, and towels.
- If needed use a humidifier in the sick room. This extra moisture can make it easier for the sick person to breathe.
- Have facemasks handy for the sick person to wear when they leave the sick room or are around other people.
- Avoid having other people enter the sick room. If necessary, they should try to keep a distance of 6 feet from the sick person.
- Clean surfaces that may have flu germs on them with soap and water or a disinfectant. These may include doorknobs, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, phones, and toys.
- If you can, choose only one caregiver to take care of sick family members. If you are pregnant or have certain chronic health problems, ask someone else to be the caregiver if possible. If you get the flu, it could be much more serious for you.
- When caring for people who have the flu:
- Avoid being face to face with the sick person. If possible, it is best to spend the least amount of time in close contact with a sick person.
- When holding sick children, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face.
- Wash your hands often and the right way.
- Make sure to wash your hands after touching the sick person. Wash after handling their tissues or laundry.
- For fever:
- Place a cool, damp washcloth on the forehead or take ibuprofen or acetaminophen as directed.
- For congestion:
- For stopped up nose:
- For sore, tickly throat:
- Medicated throat lozenges or hard candy provide some relief.
- For help sleeping:
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air to ease breathing. A humidity gauge can ensure you don't overdo it. Typically, humidity should not exceed 50% to minimize mold growth and dust mite populations. However, when running a humidifier to reduce congestion and/or cough, try to confine it's use to no more than a few days.