What You Need To Know About The Flu

April 25, 2016 | Health Advice | By: Tequilla Manning

Each year there is a lot of conversation and debate about the flu, specifically, what is it, does vaccination really help, who should get vaccinated, when is the best time to receive the vaccine, and what are the types of vaccines. These questions are best answered by healthcare professionals especially since there are many myths surrounding flu vaccination. One common myth is that the flu vaccine gives you the flu. This statement is false! Below are some common questions about the flu with correct answers.

1. What is influenza aka “the flu”?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness, meaning that it can affect the lungs, nose, and throat of infected individuals.

2. What causes the flu?
Influenza viruses- mainly Types A and B, these cause seasonal flu epidemics each year.

3. How does one get the flu?
Infected people spread the virus via coughing, sneezing, and talking. It is less commonly spread via touch.

4. How can you protect yourself from the flu?
Get VACCINATED each year! You can get a flu shot or a nasal spray vaccine.

5. Who should get vaccinated?
Everyone 6 months and older should receive the vaccine.

6. When should you get vaccinated?
Ideally, you should get vaccinated in October or as soon as the vaccines are available. Flu season can last until late May.

7. What are the signs and symptoms of the flu?
Fever, cough, sore throat, muscle/body aches, runny/stuffy nose, headaches, fatigue, and maybe even vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms of the flu. Symptoms will vary from person to person.

8. How serious is the flu?
The flu can cause pneumonia and make your pre-existing medical problems even worse. Death is the main adverse effect of the flu.

The most important take-home point from this information is to get VACCINATED! For more information, please contact your primary care physician to discuss vaccination options. Also, feel free to visit the following website to learn more: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.

Additionally, there is a lot of conversation and confusion about the infamous “stomach flu,” which is a different illness from Influenza (respiratory flu) and is more formally called Acute Gastroenteritis. This illness is caused mainly by viruses (e.g. Noroviruses) but can also be caused by bacteria, parasites, toxins, and chemicals. It is spread via infected people and animals and contaminated food, water, and other environmental sources. Although acute gastroenteritis includes symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, the most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. These symptoms are apparent 1-2 days after exposure to the pathogen (Norovirus) and should resolve within 1-3 days. A common complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration. The best way to prevent acute gastroenteritis is to practice good hygiene: wash your hands, clean and prepare food properly (do NOT serve food to people when you are infected), disinfect surfaces, and wash laundry thoroughly. Treatment includes rehydration—drink lots of fluids! Antibiotics will NOT treat this illness, and there is NO “stomach flu” vaccine.

Important take-home points are that acute gastroenteritis, which is commonly referred to as “stomach flu,” is NOT the same thing as Respiratory Influenza (aka flu) and presents with more gastrointestinal symptoms. The annual flu shot protects against the flu and not gastroenteritis. The best way to protect yourself from the “stomach flu” is to practice good hygiene and stay hydrated. For more information, contact your family doctor or visit the following website: http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/symptoms.html.

Tequilla Manning, third-year medical student – KU School of Medicine