It’s a cold… it’s a stomach bug… no, it’s influenza (flu), and if you are like many Americans, flu season might have you feeling a little conFLUsed.
While the vast majority of adults have heard of the flu, many still express conFLUsion and mistrust when it comes to what flu is and flu prevention and care. That’s because there is no shortage of bad advice, miseducation and myths about the flu. To combat these issues, the IDSA Foundation developed ConFLUsion, a national public awareness campaign aimed at combating flu myths with credible health information.
Recently, Outcome Health and the IDSA Foundation announced a partnership to promote the ConFLUsion campaign to audiences at the point of care. At the IDSA Foundation, we recognize the tremendous value in reaching patients and their caregivers with flu facts and vaccine information at the point of care because this is when they have immediate access to their healthcare provider. Rather than learning information about the flu and forgetting it the moment they become distracted by something else going on in their lives, the patient and caregiver audience is in a moment when their health is top of mind. At the point of care, they can ask their provider questions (to further dispel any conFLUsion they may have) and learn what to expect after receiving the vaccine. Through this partnership with Outcome Health, we can ensure that our important messages are reaching patients during their most critical moments of care.
We sought the expertise of Dr. Andrew T. Pavia to provide more information about the flu and why prevention is so important.
DON’T LET CONFLUSION KEEP YOU FROM PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM THE FLU. GET THE FACTS.
Each year, the flu causes millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths. Last year’s flu season alone accounted for the deaths of more than 80,000 people, making it one of the deadliest flu seasons in decades. The flu is a contagious viral respiratory infection that typically, although not always, causes fever (100-102° F for several days) *, severe aches and pains, exhaustion, coughing, sore throat, congestion, and a runny nose. Flu can also lead to more severe complications including pneumonia, blood stream infections, and less commonly, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), heart muscle (myocarditis), and skeletal muscles (myositis).
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever, especially the elderly, infants, and those on high doses of steroids.
The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days but can range from about one to four days.
The best way to prevent flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
THE FLU IS NOT:
A cold. Cold symptoms are similar, such as congestion, runny nose, and cough, but rarely include fever (and very mild, if so), severe aches and pains, and almost never exhaustion. Flu symptoms typically are much more intense than cold symptoms. Colds typically begin gradually while flu typically starts suddenly. People may say things about flu like: “It felt like I was suddenly hit by a truck.”
A stomach illness . Although people often say they have the “stomach flu,” there is no such thing. While modest vomiting and diarrhea occasionally are symptoms of the flu – more likely in children than adults – severe gastrointestinal symptoms typically suggest a bacterial or different type of viral infection (such as norovirus), rather than the flu, particularly if they are not accompanied by classic flu symptoms.
WHO IS AT THE HIGHEST RISK FROM FLU?
Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get flu. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, severe obesity, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years (especially those younger than 2 years).
CAN THE FLU BE TREATED?
Yes. There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat flu illness. These include: oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), baloxavir (Xhofluza), and peramivir (Rapivab).
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK I HAVE THE FLU?
If you get the flu and are at high risk of serious complications, antiviral drugs are recommended to reduce the risk of complications. If you are not at high risk, antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms by about a day if started within 48 hours of when symptoms start and may be an option. Check with your doctor promptly if you are at high risk and you develop flu symptoms.
WILL THERE BE ANOTHER FLU EPIDEMIC IN THE U.S. AGAIN THIS YEAR?
The United States experiences annual epidemics of seasonal flu. In the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. This time of year is called “flu season.” Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and November. Most of the time, flu activity peaks between December and February, and it can last as late as May. CDC monitors key flu indicators for example, outpatient visits of influenza-like illness (ILI), the results of laboratory testing, reports of flu hospitalizations, and deaths. When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, “flu season” is said to have begun.
Cure your conFLUsion by visiting IDSAFoundation.org.
Special thanks to Andrew T. Pavia M.D., FAAP, FIDSA for his contribution to this article. Dr. Pavia is a George & Esther Gross Presidential Professor, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah, the Director of the Hospital Epidemiology program.