What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a virus that infects your respiratory tract. There are different strains of the virus, which are continually evolving. Every year the vaccine is geared toward the strains that are predicted to be the most active during the upcoming flu season.

What causes the flu?

The virus is passed from person to person through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It might surprise you to know that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on objects like doorknobs, pens, keyboards and other commonly touched hard surfaces.

What are the symptoms?

While influenza is considered a respiratory disease, it can affect your entire body. Generally, people will become sick with many, if not all, of the following symptoms:

• Fever or feeling feverish/chills. It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

• Cough

• Sore throat

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Muscle or body aches

• Headaches

• Fatigue (tiredness)

• Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

These symptoms are also present in many other medical problems. So, always talk to your health care provider for a diagnosis.

Can the flu be prevented?

The best way to prevent the flu is to receive the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against influenza and its potentially serious complications.

Vaccinating high-risk people is especially important to decrease their risk of flu. People at high risk include young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older, and people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease.

You also can prevent getting and spreading the virus by:

• Staying home when you are sick

• Washing your hands

• Limiting contact with those who are ill

• Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing

Is the flu shot safe?

The shot is safe and closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The flu shot cannot give you the flu.

Are there certain people who shouldn’t receive the vaccine?

Although the vaccine is safe, there are certain people who should not be vaccinated. This includes:

• Children younger than 6 months

• People with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredients in the vaccine

You should talk with your doctor before getting a flu shot if:

• You have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine

• You have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a severe paralyzing illness

• You are not feeling well

How is the virus treated?

Treatment is focused on reducing the severity of your symptoms. It may include:

• Antiviral medicines to reduce the length of the virus

• Aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve aches and fever

• Decongestants

• Rest

• Increased fluid intake

You can call to schedule an appointment with the nurse for a flu shot at Sanford in Wahpeton at 701-642-7000.

Noe Mateo, MD, is an Infectious Disease provider at Sanford Bismarck.

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