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Although influenza (flu) viruses circulate year-round, heightened flu activity often begins in late October or early November and usually peaks between the months of December and February each year. The flu is a highly contagious respiratory virus that affects the nose, throat and sometimes lungs in both children and adults. Following an aggressive and widespread flu season last year, Dr. Maryana Tselniker, a board-certified family medicine provider with RWJ Medical Associates, offers some insight on flu prevention and what to do if you think you caught the flu.
Who is most at risk for catching the flu?
Those over 65 years old, children and people with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease are at high risk for serious flu complications.
How does the flu spread?
The flu primarily spreads via tiny droplets that are expelled from the body when people with the flu cough, sneeze or speak. Individuals infected with the flu can spread the virus to others from up to about six feet away so it’s important to avoid those who appear to be displaying symptoms and to stay at home if you are sick. Touching surfaces where the flu virus is present and then touching your nose or mouth is another way a person can get the virus.
What are ways to stay healthy this winter and prevent the flu?
The most important thing you can do to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated as early as possible in the season. Flu season usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur earlier and go much later. As long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. It’s also important to stay away from people who are ill and to wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. And if someone in your home has the flu, don’t share eating utensils and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, phones, tablets, keyboards and remotes.
Who should get a flu shot?
We recommend a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months and older, especially those populations that are at high risk for serious flu complications. While children under six months are at high risk of serious flu illness, they’re too young to be vaccinated. Their caretakers should be vaccinated instead.
What are signs and symptoms of the flu?
Many people may mistake certain flu symptoms for those of the common cold, however, there a few key differences. One indicator is that the flu can come over you abruptly, while the common cold develops more gradually. Common flu symptoms may include: fever or feeling feverish/chills, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, muscle or body aches, fatigue, possible vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children) or headaches. The flu can cause mild to severe illness and symptoms may differ from person to person. A person may exhibit some, all or none of these symptoms
What should you do if you do get the flu?
Call your primary care doctor as soon as possible. They may be able to provide you with an antiviral drug that will lessen symptoms, decrease complications and shorten the duration of being ill. Flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within two days of getting sick. Other than that, you should stay home and get plenty of rest and fluids.
Dr. Tselniker is board certified in Family Medicine and fluent in English and Russian. She is a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group and affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton and accepts most major insurances. For more information, call (609) 245-7430.