So, are you looking for ways to avoid getting Flu? Although complete immunity can’t be guaranteed, I’ve put together some top tips that might just protect you from getting sick any common cold or influenza season.
Incredibly, the flu pandemic of 1918–1919 killed more people than the First World War. And today, between 9.2 million and 35.6 million cases of flu arise each year in the United States alone. It’s responsible for around 140,000–710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000–56,000 deaths annually.
This highly contagious respiratory illness is caused by influenza types A and B viruses. With it’s main activity often beginning in October in the U.S., peaks December through February, and sometimes lasts until as late as May.
Certain groups of people are at a greater risk of experiencing complications from flu. These groups include young children, pregnant women, adults over the age of 65 years, and those with chronic medical conditions.
And, unless you lock yourself away from everyone and everything, there is no foolproof strategy for dodging the virus completely.
What is Flu?
Commonly, the flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It spreads mostly from person to person, and people with it are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins.
The virus attacks the body by spreading through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract. And although flu and the common cold share many symptoms, they are vastly different.
For example, symptoms of cold arise gradually and are milder than those of flu, whereas symptoms of flu come on quickly, are intense, and may result in severe health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, and hospitalizations.
The common cold and flu are both contagious viral infections of the respiratory tract. Although the symptoms can be similar, the flu is much worse. A cold may drag you down a bit, but the flu can make you shudder at the very thought of getting out of bed.
What are the Symptoms of Flu?
Congestion, sore throat, and sneezing are common with colds. Both cold and flu may bring coughing (less common), headache, and chest discomfort. With the flu, though, you are likely to run a high fever for several days and have body aches, fatigue, and weakness.
Other symptoms also tend to come on abruptly. Usually, complications from colds are relatively minor, but a case of flu can lead to a life-threatening illness such as pneumonia.
More than 100 types of cold viruses are known, and new strains of flu evolve every few years. Since both diseases are viral, antibiotics cannot conquer cold or flu.
Although, there are no medications that specifically defeat the common cold. In that case, antibiotics may be helpful only if there is a secondary bacterial infection. For in-depth information, see more about WebMD Flu Treatment.
Are there Different Types of Flu Viruses?
Of course, Yes! Researchers divide flu viruses into three general categories: types A, B, and C. All three types can mutate, or change into new strains, and type. Not forgetting, there is also the Reye Syndrome.
Type A Influenza mutates often, yielding new strains of the virus every few years. This means that you can never develop permanent immunity to influenza.
Even if you develop antibodies against a flu virus one year, those antibodies are unlikely to protect you against a new strain of the flu virus the next year. Type A Mutations are responsible for major flu epidemics every few years and for the major pandemics that can occur, though rarely.
Type B Influenza is less common and generally results in milder cases of flu. However, major flu epidemics can occur with type B every three to five years. While Type C Influenza causes infection but does not cause typical flu symptoms.
What is Reye Syndrome?
Both influenza A and B have been linked to the development of Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal complication that usually affects children and teens under age 18. Widespread outbreaks of Reye’s syndrome have occurred with influenza type B and also with chickenpox, but other viruses have been implicated.
The risk of Reye’s syndrome is increased when taking aspirin, so anyone under age 18 should not take aspirin if they have any viral symptoms or are recovering from the flu or any other virus.
Most influenza viruses that infect humans seem to originate in parts of Asia. Where close contact between livestock and people creates a hospitable environment for mutation and transmission of viruses. Swine, or pigs, can catch both avian (meaning from birds, such as poultry) and human forms of a virus. Acting as hosts for these different viral strains to meet and mutate into new forms.
The swine then transmit the new form of the virus to people in the same way in which people infect each other. By transmitting viruses through droplets in the air that people breathe in.
What is Avian Flu?
Basically, Avian Influenza is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. Bird flu epidemics have occurred worldwide.
Also known as Bird Flu is a leading contender to be the next pandemic flu bug because it has caused an unprecedented epidemic in poultry and wild birds across Asia and Eastern Europe. Still, no one knows for sure whether this will cause the next human flu pandemic.
How Does Flu Spread?
Often, the viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes, or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick up the germs from an object and then transfer them to your eyes, nose, or mouth. People can spread it to others up to about six feet away
“Stomach flu” is a popular term, but not a true medical diagnosis. It’s not uncommon to mistake gastroenteritis, which is what stomach flu is, for the viral infection we commonly call the “flu.” Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines).
Read and learn more about What is Stomach Flu or Influenza?
The flu virus is spread from person to person through respiratory secretions. Typically, sweeping through large groups of people who spend time in close contacts. Such as in daycare facilities, classrooms, college dormitories, military barracks, offices, nursing homes, etc.
In addition, it’s also spread when you inhale droplets in the air that contain the virus. Or, while making direct contact with respiratory secretions through sharing drinks or utensils. As well as, handle items contaminated by an infected person. In the latter case, the virus on your skin can infect you when you touch or rub your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Who is at Greatest Risk of getting Flu?
Despite advances in flu prevention and treatment, the CDC estimates that deaths related to influenza range from 3,000 to 49,000 deaths in the United States each year.
These drugs may help reduce the severity as well as its duration. And are best used within the first 48 hours of the appearance of flu symptoms.
With this in mind, for in-depth information, please see more about WebMD Flu Complications. And having said that, below are some of the precautionary measures you can take;
1. Flu Shot Administration
Getting a flu shot is the single best thing that you can do each cold season to protect yourself from severe illness.
Seasonal flu shots — created to protect against three or four flu viruses that are believed to be the most common during a specific flu season — are vaccines that are usually injected into the arm with a needle.
Flu vaccines trigger antibodies to develop in the body, usually within 2 weeks of having the shot. The antibodies provide protection against the strains of flu infection contained in the vaccine. Although the flu shot may have side effects in some people, it cannot cause flu illness.
The Flu Shot is given to?
Everybody over the age of 6 months is recommended to get an annual flu vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Several flu shots are available depending on age and whether you are pregnant or have a chronic health condition.
Children under 6 months old are too young to receive a shot. People who have life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine or have ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome should discuss the flu shot with their doctor before getting vaccinated.
Between 151 million and 166 million doses of the injectable vaccine are estimated to be available for the 2017–2018 virus season. When the supply of the vaccine is limited, priority will often be given to a variety of patients.
Priority will often be given to:
- children aged between 6 months and 4 years
- adults aged 50 years and over
- those with chronic pulmonary disorders or immunosuppressed
- pregnant women
- children and adolescents on long-term aspirin therapy
- people who work in chronic care facilities and healthcare personnel
- individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more
Does the Flu Shot work?
A good match occurs when the viruses in the vaccine and the circulating viruses in any given flu season are closely related. The antibodies generated as a result of the vaccine will then effectively protect against infection.
If the viruses contained in the vaccine and the circulating viruses differ, the shot’s effectiveness may be reduced. In mismatched seasons, the vaccine may still provide some protection against influenza illness and related flu viruses.
Recent research has found that the seasonal flu shot:
- prevents severe flu in older adults and reduces admissions to the hospital
- reduces hospitalization from serious flu complications by 60 percent in children
- decreases flu cases by 70 percent in infants under 6 months whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy
- reduces hospital admissions in people with type 2 diabetes by 30 percent for stroke, 22 percent for heart failure, and 15 percent for pneumonia and flu
- does not heighten susceptibility to infection from flu during seasons of vaccine mismatch
Scientists worldwide are currently working to develop a “universal” flu vaccine. That would make yearly vaccinations a thing of the past.
A one-shot universal vaccine would aim to protect against all — or almost all — seasonal and pandemic flu strains. The single best way to prevent a seasonal cold is to get vaccinated each year. But, good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like influenza.
There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent it too.
2. Try Flu Antiviral Drugs
Flu antiviral drugs are prescription medications that reduce the severity and complications. Antiviral drugs work by fighting the flu virus and preventing it from multiplying in your body.
Symptoms start to improve with plenty of rest, fluids, and use of over-the-counter medicines. Your doctor might prescribe antiviral drugs as a treatment or preventative option. If you are at an increased risk of severe influenza complications.
So far, the US. Food and Drug Administration (in short FDA) has approved three flu antiviral drugs that are recommended by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (in short CDC). Against the currently circulating flu viruses.
The three antiviral drugs include:
- oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
- zanamivir (Relenza)
- peramivir (Rapivab)
When antivirals are used within 2 days of flu symptoms starting, they may reduce symptoms and shorten the time that you are sick. Antivirals may also prevent ear infections in children and hospitalizations and pneumonia in adults.
Antivirals can also reduce the risk of death in individuals with cold severe enough to be admitted to the hospital. While antivirals might be a potential treatment option, some doctors approach them with caution in treating the cold.
The Cochrane Collaboration and The BMJ conducted research in 2014 that questioned the benefits and explored the harms of Tamiflu and Relenza. Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for the cold vaccine.
3. Maintain Your Immune System
The immune system protects your body from infection. When it is in tiptop shape and functioning properly, the immune system launches an attack on threats. Such as influenza viruses.
For most individuals, the immune system does a good job of regulating itself. But immune system disorders, allergies, asthma, medications, and autoimmune diseases can all impact how well the immune system works.
You can benefit your whole body, including your immune system, by implementing healthy living strategies.
Healthy living strategies include:
- consuming a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet
- exercising frequently
- aiming for a healthy BMI
- sleeping for 7–9 hours each night
- reducing stress
Studies have produced some interesting findings surrounding the immune system and the common cold.
Vitamin D supplements have been demonstrated to halve the risk of respiratory infections. Such as common cold in people with low baseline vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a vital role in the functioning of the immune system.
Lactobacillus Brevis — a type of lactic acid bacteria — from a pickled turnip that is popular in Japan was found to be protective against the virus infection in mice by increasing immune system molecules in the body.
Regular moderate exercise could cut respiratory infections by one third, while strenuous exercise may cause a two- to sixfold increase in the risk of infection. These findings show what physical activity can have. Either a positive or negative effect on the function of the immune system.
4. Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking could be a useful preventative measure against flu — not only for you but also for your children, family, or anyone else who lives with you.
People who smoke have a more exaggerated response to viruses, including the common cold.
Flu virus symptoms that are often mild in those who do not smoke could have a severe effect on people who do. For example, smokers are more likely to die than non-smokers during the virus epidemics.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT, conducted an experiment that revealed that exposure to cigarette smoke from two cigarettes per day for 2 weeks triggered an overreaction in the immune system of mice when exposed to the flu virus.
Although the mice’s immune systems cleared the virus normally, there was inflated inflammation and higher levels of tissue damaged than would be expected.
These findings suggest that it severely affects people who smoke. Not because they can’t fight it off, but because their immune system overreacts to the virus.
Lead author Dr. Jack A. Elias, the chair of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, compared the reaction of smokers. Particularly, with using a sledgehammer rather than a fly swatter to get rid of a fly.
The University of Rochester Medical Center in New York also discovered that “children who are exposed to secondhand smoke” have a higher chance of needing intensive care and longer hospital stays when hospitalized with flu.
5. Maintain Good Health Habits
As a matter of fact, flu is extremely contagious, able to spread from one person to another standing within 6 feet. Through droplets produced when coughing, sneezing, or talking or by touching contaminated surfaces.
A study that was conducted by the University of Maryland in Baltimore found that those with flu contaminate the air around them simply by breathing.
Other research demonstrated that one single doorknob or tabletop could spread a virus to 40–60 percent of workers and visitors within just 2–4 hours of contamination.
The findings highlight the importance of good hygiene practices in the workplace and public places. Plus the need to go home as soon as possible when the symptoms begin.
Following a few simple steps can minimize the spread of flu viruses:
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick or other people if you are sick.
- If you have likely symptoms, stay home from school or work for at least 24 hours after your fever has disappeared.
- Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing. Dispose of the tissue immediately after use.
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without first washing your hands to ensure they are germ-free.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that people come into contact with at work, school, or home.
Research conducted by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor indicated that hand hygiene and wearing surgical masks reduced the spread of likely symptoms by up to 75 percent in university residence halls.
How you can help protect common cold
In general, the tips and resources below will help you learn more.
For instance, about steps, you can take to protect yourself. As well as others from Influenza and help stop the spread of germs.
Avoid close contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
Stay home when you are sick
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
Cover your mouth and nose
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
Clean your hands
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Read and learn more about Handwashing | Life is Better with Clean Hands – Campaign
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Germs are often spread when a person touches something. Especially, that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Practice other good health habits
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
Equally important, get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Finally, I hope the above-revised guide was helpful to you or someone close to you.