The influenza season officially runs from October to as late as May each year. Activity peaks around the end of the year and into January. Doctors and public health care experts say people should begin to prepare now, if they have not already.
While it varies from year to year, the number of people who get the flu runs above 45 million. Deaths can range as high as 75,000. Experts believe that if the general population heeded a few recommendations, the numbers would not be so high.
The first piece of advice provided by the CDC is that virtually everyone over six months of age should get a flu vaccine.
Flu vaccines do not protect against all flu viruses, but the shots target those most likely to be prevalent in any given year. These technically are known as “trivalent influenza vaccines.”
A small portion of people who are vaccinated can still get the flu, but they can take antiviral drugs once the symptoms begin. These cut both the duration of symptoms and their severity. The severity is one reason why health experts worry about people catching the flu — along with these other infections even doctors are afraid of.
Experts also offer advice on things people can do to avoid becoming ill and what they should do when they get the flu.
The Mayo Clinic offers three guidelines to help prevent flu. The first is that people wash their hands. The specific recommendation is that soap and water or alcohol sanitizers are best. Next, people should contain coughs or sneezes. To prevent disease from spreading, one should “cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inner crook of [one’s] elbow.” Finally, avoid crowds, particularly in large places like auditoriums, public schools and public transportation.
How can people tell if they have the flu? WebMD advises that the most common symptoms are muscle aches, fever, cough, fatigue and pain around the eyes. Several symptoms that indicate the flu may be more severe, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, vomiting and confusion.
What to do once you have the flu? The advice is simple: Stay at home, rest, drink fluids and avoid contact with others. There is no cure for the flu and it can be deadly. In some cases, it causes serious side effects — these are the most surprising health complications from the flu.