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Health Tips

The Flu

Flu symptoms usually appear suddenly and may include fever over 102 degrees, stuffy nose, fatigue, muscle aches, decreased appetite, nausea, chills and sweats, cough, and headache. The flu can lead to pneumonia and other complications. Each year more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized and more than 36,000 people die because of the flu.

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine. This year, the flu vaccine includes coverage for the H1N1 vaccine. The vaccine is available by shot or nasal spray (FluMist). The flu vaccine works by exposing your immune system to the flu virus. Your body builds up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses. The nasal spray vaccine contains weakened live viruses. There is also a new product, Fluzone High Dose for people 65 years and older.

All individuals 6 months and older should get the seasonal flu vaccine.

The following people are at high risk for complications from the flu, or are contacts of individuals at high risk for complications from the flu:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under 5 years old
  • People over 50 years old
  • Those with chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart or kidney disease)
  • People who live in nursing homes, long-term care facilities
  • Health care workers
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children older than 6 months old
  • The following individuals will need to get 2 doses of vaccine:
  • Children 6 months - 8 years old who have never received seasonal flu vaccine.
  • Children 6 months - 8 years old who received seasonal flu vaccine for the first time in 2009-10 but only received one dose.
  • Children who have not received at least one dose of the H1N1 2009 vaccine, regardless of previous flu vaccine history.

You cannot get the flu from the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine.

Some people get a little soreness or redness where they get the shot. The nasal mist might cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and cough.

Reduce your risk of catching the flu by washing your hands frequently to stop the spread of germs. Eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep all help prevent the flu because they help boost your immune system.

If you get the flu, you may treat the symptoms with over the counter medications until you feel better. Get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, avoid alcohol and smoking. Warm, salt water gargles, throat sprays or lozenges help relieve a sore throat. Analgesics such as acetaminophen, naproxen and ibuprofen help relieve aches and pains and reduce fever. Expectorants help thin mucus so it can be coughed up more easily. Antitussives (cough suppressants) help stop coughing, but do not take if you are coughing up mucus. Do not give antitussives to children under 4 years old.

Call your doctor if you or your child has a high fever lasting more than 3 days, breathing difficulty, chest pain, fainting, ear pain, vomiting, abdominal pain, changes in mental state (confusion, disorientation), symptoms lasting more than 10 days, or sinus pain.

In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication.