The shorter days and cooler nights of fall are a reminder that another, less pleasant season is not far off: flu season. Although it isn’t defined by exact dates, flu season can begin as early as October and last until April, generally peaking in winter. As a physician and medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, fall is when I remind patients it’s time to be vaccinated against the flu.
Flu -- short for influenza -- is a respiratory virus whose symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, chills, body aches, headache and fatigue, among other things and lasts anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Other symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can also occur, particularly in children, and for those with health issues or chronic conditions, symptoms can last longer than two weeks.
There is currently no cure for the flu, and treatments depend on the symptoms being experienced. For example, nasal decongestants are sometimes helpful for those experiencing nasal or sinus congestion. Medications can help lessen the symptoms, but because flu is a virus, antibiotics are not useful.
Most health experts believe influenza is spread through airborne droplets when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks -- and those droplets are inhaled. That’s why it’s important for people who have the flu to cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze or cough. Additionally, frequent hand washing can significantly reduce the risk of spreading the flu. People with flu should also be kept out of school or stay home from work for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.
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