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Q. What can I do to prevent influenza, and how should I treat it if I get it?

A. Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Certain groups such as children, the elderly and those with certain chronic medical conditions may be at risk for serious flu complications. The CDC recommends three main ways to help protect yourself and combat the flu this season.
Get vaccinated.
Vaccination is one of the first and most important ways to protect ourselves from the flu. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. It is especially important for people with chronic medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease as well as pregnant women and those older than age 65. There is some evidence that some of the viruses spreading this season are different from those in the vaccine, however, vaccination can still provide protection and might reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. It is not too late to get the flu vaccine.

Everyday precautions.
First of all, avoid contact with sick people. Wash your hands often and, if soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you do get sick, prevent the spread to others by limiting your own contact with others. Stay home from work, as the flu can spread quickly through a closed office space. The CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. People with the flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue away immediately and wash your own hands. Clean and disinfect surfaces that may be infected.

Antiviral medication.
Most people with the flu have mild cases that don’t require medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If you are in a high risk group or have certain chronic diseases, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to help shorten the disease and prevent the more serious complications. Sometimes the medication is also given to close contacts of patients with the flu in order to help prevent the disease. Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. It is important to know the symptoms and consult your doctor because medications are best started within two or three days of getting sick.

–Dr. Donna Reger, RWJ Family & Internal Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton

This content is intended to encourage a healthy lifestyle. For medical advice and treatment, see a physician.