Flu Season 2013:

Facts and FAQs

2013 Flu Season

Influenza (or the flu for short) afflicts roughly 60 million Americans annually, particularly during the winter. Seasonal influenza viruses come in two basic varieties: type A, which causes the most extensive and severe outbreaks, such as the one we are experiencing now; and the usually milder type B. Frequently during flu season, viruses from both types are present in the community.

Each year, some of these flu viruses can mutate, which is why a different flu vaccine is prepared every year. Major mutations are often the cause of pandemics, because the immunity that we acquire over time from repeated exposure or vaccination may no longer be effective. New variant flu viruses arise sporadically, such as the swine flu variant that appeared in summer 2012 or the avian flu that was first detected in Hong Kong back in 1997 and which still causes occasional small outbreaks.

What are the health risks associated with the flu?

For the most part, the flu doesn’t pose serious health risks. Most cases last only a few days and although symptoms can be severe, serious complications aren’t common. The disease usually improves on its own. Worrisome complications such as pneumonia are uncommon, and flu-related deaths remain rare, most occurring in people with serious underlying health problems, the elderly, children, and women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

How does the flu spread?

Flu spreads person-to-person primarily from the airborne particles generated by coughing and sneezing, but also by hand-to-hand contact. It’s not clear whether the flu can be spread by touching items such as clothing or hard surfaces previously touched by someone with the virus.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than the symptoms of a common cold. Symptoms typically develop one day to seven days after exposure, and can last from a few days to two weeks. They may include any or all of the following:

  • Fever (usually 100°F or warmer, lasting for several days), often with chills
  • Body aches or muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Eye pain, such as burning, pain on eye movement or sensitivity to light
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea or nausea and vomiting, are fairly uncommon

Should I get tested for the flu?

If you have the typical symptoms described above during a known flu outbreak, you can be pretty sure you have the flu. However, flu symptoms aren’t specific to the flu, but can occur in other diseases as well, so to be certain, contact your primary care provider to see whether an office visit is necessary. Other diagnoses that can present in a similar manner include pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough). Right now, there is a high incidence of pertussis in the community, so if your predominant symptom is a loud, uncontrollable cough, your health care provider may want to see you. In most cases, however, it’s best to stay at home and rest rather than come to the office.

Testing is rarely necessary. Testing for the flu–most often done by obtaining a swab of your throat or nasal secretions–is only necessary when the diagnosis is in doubt and the results of the test will affect your treatment. The flu vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective; even if you’ve received the vaccine, you can still get the flu (although the likelihood is significantly reduced), so don’t ignore your symptoms or assume that you have some other illness.

What’s the best treatment for the flu?

There’s really no substitute for old-school, commonsense treatments. Get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for fever and body aches, but avoid aspirin if you’re under the age of 19 (children and teenagers can develop a severe disorder called Reye’s syndrome if they take aspirin when they have the flu).

Do antiviral medications like Tamiflu help?

During the first 48 hours of the illness, antiviral medications such as the oral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or the inhaled drug zanamivir (Relenza) can effectively lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the disease; beyond 48 hours, though, they have little effect. Whether or not you’re treated with one of these medications, you should start feeling better within a few days. If, however, you don’t get better and particularly if you get worse (e.g., your fever spikes or you become short of breath), then you may have a complication of influenza (see below), in which case, you should seek medical attention immediately. If you’re a One Medical member, call our office and ask to speak with our medical staff for more advice.

Who should take antiviral drugs for the flu?

There are two categories of people who should take antiviral medications for the flu: People who are very sick with the flu (e.g., people who are hospitalized) and people who are sick with the flu and at risk of developing serious flu complications, either because of their age or because of a high-risk medical condition. If you have the flu but you’re not in either of these two categories, you don’t need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

How can I prevent spreading the flu?

Wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your arm (not your hands) and throw out tissues immediately after use. Most importantly, stay home.

When can I return to work or school?

Don’t return to work or school until you have had a normal body temperature (under 100°F without taking a fever-lowering medication such as Advil or Tylenol) for at least 24 hours.

How long will I be contagious?

You’re contagious from the day before you develop symptoms until 24 hours after your fever breaks.

Am I at risk for complications of the flu?

  • You are at increased risk for complications if:
  • You are pregnant
  • You have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, asthma, emphysema, cancer, HIV, etc.
  • You are age 65 or older
  • You are younger than age 5
  • You are younger than age 19 and are receiving long-term aspirin therapy

If you fall into any of these categories and are feeling sick, or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of influenza, please call our office and ask to speak to a medical staff member for further guidance.

When should I go to an emergency room?

You should go directly to an emergency room for further evaluation and treatment if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Bluish skin color
  • Confusion or sudden dizziness
  • Persistent or severe vomiting

How can I protect myself from getting the flu?

  • Wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently. Be aware of touching surfaces like doorknobs, faucets, phones, keyboards, etc., and wash hands afterward. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have clean hands.
  • Try to stay at least six feet away from people who appear ill, and avoid sharing food, drinks, toothbrushes, etc. during an outbreak. Wearing a mask is not necessary.
  • Keep your immune system healthy. Get plenty of sleep (8 hours a night is ideal), drink plenty of water, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other unhealthy vices!
  • Get vaccinated! (See below for details.)

Will I get sick if I’ve been exposed to influenza?

There’s no way to know for sure, but if you’ve followed the guidelines above, and especially if you’ve received the appropriate vaccinations, you’ve got a very good chance of remaining healthy. On the other hand, if you are in the at-risk group described above, you should consider taking an antiviral medication like oseltamivir or zanamivir to further reduce your chances. These medications can reduce the likelihood that you will get sick. Please call our office to discuss this with someone on our medical staff.

Should I get a seasonal flu shot?

Yes–everyone stands to benefit from getting a seasonal flu shot. It’s especially important if you: are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant), over the age of 50, have any sort of chronic medical condition, or are caring for someone who is at risk for complications of influenza.

Is it too late to get the flu shot?

It’s never too late to get the flu shot. Even now, in the midst of an epidemic, it can be beneficial. Flu shots don’t offer 100 percent protection against the flu; the current flu shot is a little better than 60 percent effective against the major viral strain in the country. But when you consider how many millions of people are affected, 60 percent is nothing to sneeze at!

Are flu vaccines safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have been studied carefully and are generally very safe. However, if you’ve had an allergic reaction (or other bad reaction) to a vaccine in the past, be sure to let your health care provider know before you receive any vaccine. Side effects are uncommon and limited to low grade fever, mild achiness and a sore arm. The risk of a significant complication is–at most–estimated at approximately 1 in 1 million people who receive the vaccine.

Where can I learn more?

CDC: FAQs for the 2013-2014 Flu Season
Google’s Flu Trend Map

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  1. Shirley D. Hawkins says:

    Hello my name is Shirley. I wrote a comment on Monday about my son with the flu. I am happy to say that within 2 days after my son being sick,he is doing great. On Tuesday my son was back to his normal self. He went back to school with no vomiting,fever or any other signs of the flu. The knowledge that was passed down to me from generation has work. I said I would keep you posted. I hope that others who is battling this will have the same outcome and I wish you a speedy recovery.

  2. Dawn says:

    Hi, i could really use some help. I am a 54 yr old female and on tuesday I got slammed with fever 103.8 the higher being 104.3. Along with the fever there is a constant headache with bodyaches.Today is Sunday and the fever will not subside.My chest is heavy and hurts so bad when I have to cough.I am alternating Tylenol with Advil and not quite sure what elce I can do to help myself. Any suggestions ?

    • Hey Dawn,

      Unfortunately we can’t provide specific medical advice online. We’d suggest contacting your primary care provider to look into issue further. Hope you feel better soon!

      • cade says:

        Hi I am a 20 year old male. My symptoms started very mildly on Saturday I woke up with a sore throat runny nose, cough and feeling fatigued. Sunday was a little worse but I slept most of the day. Monday I had all og the symptoms described,( also when I noticed I had a fever )and they were severe. I was also vomiting. I felt like death. Tuesday I felt a little better but was still very sick. Today is Wednesday and I still have a fever a little bit of a headache but somewhat mild symptoms as long as I don’t try to do anything physical. I helped my dad move a few boxes and thought I was going to throw up for sure. Anyways my question is if I’ve been getting better the last couple of days is there even a point in going to the doctor ? I mean I’m past the halfway point for sure but didn’t think it’d be around for this long. I’ve been taking turmeric cucemin or whatever it’s called and ibuprofen and it seems to help. Also I read that someone commented that had strep plus two kinds of the flu. Is that very common? I’ve tried to avoid going to the doctor as I don’t currently have medical insurance and since I haven’t been able to work I don’t know how I could pay for a doctor visit and the e.r. is out of the question. Is it safe to wait it out? Also its the middle of July I didn’t even think people got the flu in the summer. Any answers would be greatly appreciated.

    • donna says:

      Call your doctor.

  3. Bonnie says:

    I had all of the Flu symptoms on Sunday, saw the doctor on Monday. He confirmed that it was Type A, gave me Tamiflu, instructions to rest and get some rest. I began to feel better the next day esp. since the Fever broke. Today is Saturday and am still experiencing cough with clearer and thinner sputim. How soon can I get back to my normal activities without having a relapse and what can I do to stop the cough besides drinking a lot of hot liquids?
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for your question Bonnie. Flu-like symptoms can linger for a while but may be able to resolve on their own. For the cough, Dextromethorphan (found in most cough syrups like Robitussin) may help with the cough symptoms. Check out our other flu blog post for more info here. We’d suggest double-checking with your doctor first before embarking on any type of medication.

  4. nicole lynn says:

    i am scared tooo death im gonna get sick my 16 yr old has the flu its been like four days shes saying she feels better she lives with her grandma but she wants to come to my home ..how long is the flu contagious?? and to dawn please go to hospital..the pain pill called percocet helps with flu symptoms

  5. Mamanc says:

    My child just tested postive fo flu typeA and type b, AND STREP. Any ad ice? Is this common (both A and B at the same time)?

    • It’s possible to become infected with both influenza type A and B at the same time. We suggest following up with your pediatrician for their advice and next steps as we cannot provide medical advice online.

  6. Libby jones says:

    I have tested positive for the flu once I get over it can I get it again

  7. Lisa says:

    My 20 year old daughter has every symptom of the flu except a cough. Is it possible to have the flu without a cough?

  8. Virginia says:

    I woke up last Monday with a cough then Tuesday with aches and fever went
    To the doctor was told I had the Flu was given Tamiflu and a antibiotic and shots and was much better the very next day (Wednesday)but to only wake up worse the next day(Thursday) but my 7 yr old son and husband also caught it Wednesday they are better but I’m still very weak and coughing when I get up and move around plus my chest is still alittle congested any suggestions

  9. M says:

    How long does the fever usually last? Wednesday and Thursday I didn’t feel great, some body pains and aches but figured I was feeling run down, then Friday night felt cold symptoms, Saturday woke up with a fever of 102.3, chills, aches and runny nose, cough. It’s now Monday, fever is down to 100.3, cough is wet and I feel so tired. Body aches and headache is less.. This seems to be a mild flu, as I’m not coughing a lot, but I do feel so tired and drained. Too close to Christmas and so much to do still!

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for your question. Typically a fever/flu lasts for about 2-3 days but can last as long as week or more. If you continue to have flu-like symptoms for over a week, we suggest following up with your primary doctor to look into your illness further. Feel free to check out more info about the flu here.

  10. Patti says:

    I had been ill since the Monday before Thanksgiving. I amat 24 days now and still not well. Was treated for a sinus infection with Levaquin and a steroid pack. Still ill. dr tried another antibiotic. That didn’t work. Full blood panel. All neg. still sick. He wants to do a flu swab now? Would it benefit me?

  11. K says:

    I am just getting rid of Flu type A by taking Tamiflu. Am I immune to the flu for thos season? Or I can get the same type A again? Should I get a flu shot still for the remaining for this season?

    • Great question. There are several types of flu that go around every season–even if you’ve had one type of the flu–it’s still possible to catch another type of flu. The flu season generally runs till March so its not too late to still get a flu shot.

      Malcolm Thaler, MD
      Clinical Editor
      One Medical Group

  12. J says:

    I started with a headache on Monday, it kept getting worse then I started getting dizzy. On Friday I went to the doctors office and was diagnosed with type A. I have extreme muscle fatigue in my neck and shoulders and occasionally I get the sweats. Outside of that my symptoms are minimal.

    Has anyone else had these symptoms and how long do they last?

  13. Kay F says:

    I started feeling flu-like symptoms Tuesday, Dec. 30. Took NyQuil and Coricidin HBP and today, Sat., Jan. 4 I finally have started to feel better. I did have a flu shot, so I think I had a milder case than I would have had without the shot. Even so, I was really sick and very achy. I had a 99.6 fever on Wednesday, but it broke quickly. I stayed home in bed most of these days so as not to spread it around. Hope this info helps.

  14. Tiffany says:

    Do you experience eye pain with the flu? I could pull my eyeballs out!!

  15. Monica Rachelle says:

    It started on a Friday I had a stuffy nose and headache and slight sore throat. The next day was very nauseated I thought it was a stomach virus because I had my flu vaccine 2 months ago. The Sunday I was so dizzy went to hospital they said prob stomach virus gave me fluids. My headache came back and I had a hard time going to sleep. The next morning went to urgent care for a “sinus infection”. Started amoxicillin 875 and was feeling slightly better. Next few days tired but better. My son was then sent home same exact symptoms he tested positive for H1n1. He started tamilflu yesterday today I felt like getting out. Went to store and got dizzy again. Not bad but when I move a lot. I’m wondering if its pretty accurate to say I also have h1n1 and gave it to my son. When will all the symptoms stop? The dizziness sucks.

  16. anne says:

    I started with cough on Sat chills and diagnosed with strain a on Monday. My cough is still bad and I keep spiking slight temp at night. I am getting worse,not better with fatigue and increased weakness. Should I go back to the doctor?

    • Hi Anne—sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. We answer a similar question in our other blog post about the cold and flu here . Keep in contact with your primary doctor if you have concerns or your condition continues to get worse.

  17. Laurie says:

    Hi. I started having symptoms on Wednesday, with a sore throat. Thursday I woke up feeling chills and felt feverish (didn’t have a thermometer), but took Tylenol and ibeuprofen and rested. It didn’t feel like the fever broke while taking medication, but I felt markedly better by the evening without medication. Friday, I had a sore throat and lots of drainage, sinus pressure and sneezing. In the afternoon, I felt chills again, but took ibeuprofen. Friday night I had a fever of 99.6, and rested all day Saturday, to find I had a temperature of 102. I broke a sweat after taking ibeuprofen in the evening. Does this sound like the flu, and if so, how much longer does the fever typically last – I am not sure when to begin counting the onset of symptoms.

  18. M says:

    I started feeling chilled had difficulty breathing and extremely fatigued eight days ago. The fever has lasted off and on since. I had trouble breathing the first five days, went to ER on day five and had a breathing treatment and then lungs felt better. Continued with the fever went to work on days 6 and 7 and each night got worse. Last night I was the most feverish I have been. I went to the doc today, day 8 and got tested for flu and strep, all negative. My fever is around 100 today but somehow I think I feel better. Can a flu test be wrong, the nurse couldn’t really get the swab up my nose so. It seems the breathing difficulty increases with the increase of the fever. Does this sound similar to any other flu cases? I was given antibiotics today as the doctor says she suspects pneumonia even though my chest xray is clear.

  19. Bobbi says:

    Felt absolutely fine when I woke up Monday morning and within hours was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. By Wednesday night my fevers were over 102 and I had uncontrollable shaking and chills. Was nauseous, vomiting, ached everywhere including my hair. I have MS and type 1 diabetes, and fever wreaks havoc on both. I was pretty convinced I was dying. My husband brought me to ER and I was diagnosed with Influenza A and was also very dehydrated. They gave me meds for the nausea, Tamiflu, and IV fluids. Today my fever finally broke. No more aches and headache diminishing, but I have this horrible pain in my eyes now….when I move them. Also notice that light is really hurting them. Is that normal? Thank you so much!

  20. karen eldridge says:

    I have felt very tired and achy for 3 days. I feel so weak at times but it goes away for awhile, then comes back. I feel nauseous as well, Perhaps a low grade temperature, enough to feel lousy. Is this the flu? No other symptoms.

  21. Masixole Ntunguntwana says:

    I am a victim of flu as we speak, I am experiencing eye pain especial on the eyes movement. Throat sore is the most painful one on the symptoms :( #sick

  22. Marie costello says:

    I was sick 2 days ago with the flu. And after feeling so much better thought I was over it. But my body just woke me up feelin nauseated. Is the flu rebounding or is it all in my head. Plz help!!!

  23. Flu Victim says:

    My flu symptoms (fever, aches and chills) started last Tuesday for which I started taking Tylenol and Advil. These symptoms inevitably returned if I missed a dose of T or A. I started coughing on Thursday night on top of all the previous symptoms which did not get better and remedied by taking Tylenol and Advil. I went to see my primary doctor on Friday and I started taking Tamiflu that night although the efficacy of the drug may not be optimal since it was not within 48 hrs of onset of symptoms. It is now Sunday and none of my symptoms have subsided. Fever, coughing, chills, aches and headaches are still present strong as ever. When I cough my chest hurts. I haven’t felt this sick and for this long in a long time. I am a 47 yrs old female and in good health who maintain healthy weight through exercise. How long will I feel this way before I get better? I feel the same way today as I did on Thursday. It’s hard to believe that my health has improved one bit. FYI I haven’t lost my appetite and I am drinking a lot of fluid.

  24. Will Bria says:

    i think the best way to fix back pain is lots of rest, that helps me usually

  25. vanni says:

    I was sick for like two months then when I had to get less sleep the flu hit me. Now my whole house and half the people I came into contact with got it. Not cause of me though. 50 people. I’ve had symptoms for like 3 days. My head throbs when I move my eyes too fast. I can sleep all day and night and still be fatigued. Those are the things that freak me out

  26. Stephanie says:

    Hi! I got a flu shot last Thursday morning . By Friday evening I had a sever headache … A week later it’s still not gone ! I have tingling in the bottom of my left foot when I went to sleep last night and still feels weird today !my neck and back also hurt ? Is this all related to shot ? I was recently diagnosed with anxiety so I don’t know if I’m just over reacting … I sure do hope this headache goes away soon as I have never had a continuous one like this before ! Any advice would be appreciate thanks

    • Hi Stephanie,
      It is possible that these reactions are due to the flu shot, although that would be very uncommon. If they are, they are benign and will go away. And of course you can always see your primary health care provider to get checked out. Hope you feel better soon!

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