We are in the peak of flu season. If you still haven’t gotten a flu shot, now is the time. It is never too late to get one. Flu season begins in October and will last well into the spring. But if you’re feeling a little under the weather, you may be wondering if you’re experiencing early flu symptoms.
It’s important to remember flu is a serious illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu kills thousands of people each year. Another 200,000 people spend time time in the hospital because of it. It is contagious, lasts a week or two, and can have lingering effects.
As many as 20 percent of us will get the flu this year, so if you’re wondering if you’d know you feeling the effects, here is how you can pick up on early flu symptoms.
Think F.A.C.T.S. For Flu
To do a quick symptom check for influenza think "F.A.C.T.S." That stands for fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset:
A fever is a sign that your body is fighting off an infection. Flu-related fevers are typically 101˚F or higher. Viruses thrive at your normal body temperature of 98.6˚F, so when your body is hotter it's harder for the flu virus to survive. The warmer temperature also stimulates your immune system.
You may think you're sore from your kickboxing class, but what is happening is your body is releasing chemicals to help white blood cells fight off the infection. Like a fever, it’s actually a good sign, but the side-effect is soreness.
There’s a chance you will not have a fever. You might experience chills, with or without a fever, while the virus runs its course. Chills are caused by rapid muscle contraction and relaxation. They are your body's way of producing heat when it feels cold.
Your immune system is working so hard to fight the virus, you feel tired and your muscles may even lose strength. Tiredness is also one of the symptoms that may linger after your other symptoms disappear.
Sudden onset may be the tell-tale sign you have the flu. It is a trademark symptom of influenza, whereas colds usually begin with a stuffy nose or sore throat and then progress gradually.
Your Risk for Flu Increases
If you frequent crowded places like:
- Nursing Homes
The more people you have packed inside, touching things like doorknobs and countertops, the better the chance one of them is sick. If they are sick and touching the same things you touch, your chances for getting sick go up.
You may also be increasing your risk of getting the flu if you have a chronic medical condition like
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Disease
- HIV infection
You may also be at an increased risk if your immune system is weakened by a recent illness or stress.
If You Contract the Flu:
- Drink plenty of water, Gatorade and soup. However, you should avoid drinking fluids that have caffeine, like coffee, tea, cola drinks.
- If you have nasal congestion, you can make a simple nasal nose drop or you can purchase at the store. Quarter teaspoon of salt and 4 ounces of warm water, shaken into a class. Inhale through the nose and exhaling can clear the nasal passages of secretions and mucus.
- Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in smaller sized rooms.
- Wash your hands often
- Use warm heating pads for muscle aches
- Take Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin for adults (must be over the age of 18)
- Take decongestants, cough medicine or throat lozenges
- Visit your primary care physician to see if antiviral medications are needed
Your best defense against influenza is always a flu shot. It not only dramatically decreases your chances of getting the flu, it will shorten its duration if you do happen to come down with it.
Recognizing early flu symptoms can help you to make the critical decision of staying home from work of school, so you don’t spread it to anyone else.
There are many precautions you can take to prevent feeling this year’s flu symptoms. It starts with scheduling an appointment to get vaccinated.