Flu season is here once again. While flu season is certainly nothing new, it is always unpredictable and recently, we have seen some severe seasons. Fighting the virus involves being proactive about prevention, adopting consistent hygiene habits, and doing all we can to limit the spread of the virus.
How the Virus Spreads
Flu season typically runs from October to March, but varies year to year. Although the cases of the flu are detected throughout the year, the virus is known to thrive in cooler, drier weather, which is why it reaches peak activity around this time each year.
A person contracts the flu virus after coming into physical contact with someone who already has it. The virus spreads through droplets, or the fluids that most commonly result from a cough or a sneeze. Those with the flu can transmit these droplets to someone else from up to six feet away. When droplets land in the nose or mouth, or if they are inhaled into the lungs of someone else, that person is then infected. The flu can also spread when someone touches a surface that has been exposed to the virus and then touches their own nose or mouth.
By and large, the most effective preventative measure for influenza is the flu shot. Although the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, it can reduce the likelhood of infection, prevent the spread of the illness to others, and it is also known to reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms in those who contract the illness.
Aside from the flu shot, there are several simple hygiene habits that if adopted, can greatly hinder the spread of the virus.
- Aggressive Hand Hygiene – Frequently washing your hands with antibacterial soap, warm water and antibacterial alcohol or sanitizer is an effective way to prevent contact with the germs that spread the influenza virus. Be sure to wash your hands often, especially after coming into contact with someone who is ill, or utilizing public works and transportation services.
- Covering Your Coughs and Sneezes – A human cough can travel as fast as 50 miles per hour. What’s more, there are approximately 3,000 droplets in a single cough. Sneezes are twice as fast, and contain upwards of 100,000 droplets. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow, rather than your hands, can help prevent the spread of the virus to others.
- Limiting Contact with Others – For those who are already sick, limiting your contact with others is the best thing you can do to avoid spreading the virus. The contagion period for the flu begins 24 hours before symptoms appear, and can persist for several days after symptoms have cleared up
- In addition to these preventative measures, it is important for patients to get plenty of rest, maintain a healthy diet, and stay hydrated in order to support a healthy immune system and increase their body’s chances of resisting the virus.
In most cases, the flu can be treated with a combination of rest, hydration and fever-reducers that contain acetaminophen. For the body aches and muscle pains that are commonly associated with the flu, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can be a great help. Patients are also encouraged to ask their doctor about anti-viral medications, which can help shorten the duration of flu symptoms.
South Shore Health has a network of infectious disease specialists, urgent care centers and emergency facilities available to help patients combat severe flu symptoms.
Visit southshorehealth.org to find a doctor or to learn more about flu prevention and treatment options.