Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus — and to be honest, if you’ve never experienced the flu before, then consider yourself extremely lucky! This combination of upper respiratory congestion, fever, cough, sore throat, and nausea/vomiting is something that can knock even the healthiest person off their feet for a few days at the very least.
Now that “cold and flu season” is well under way, let’s briefly go over some of the major points about the flu so that you can better protect yourself and your family from getting sick:
- The flu is very contagious and the virus spreads through microscopic droplets of body fluid — anytime someone with the virus coughs or sneezes, the virus can become airborne and can infect another person.
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most healthy adults show symptoms around one day after being infected, although it’s possible to pass the virus on to someone else even before you realize you’re sick. After symptoms start developing, the period of contagiousness lasts around five to seven days.
- Complications are possible with the flu, especially for children, elderly adults, women who are pregnant, and anyone with a weakened immune system. For anyone at risk, it’s imperative to receive emergency care right away if influenza is suspected.
- The influenza virus actually isn’t just one virus — and that’s what makes it so dangerous, and even deadly. The virus mutates each year into multiple strains, and these continue to mutate, so a new vaccination has to be developed each year. The flu is notoriously unpredictable in terms of severity, and medical researchers go to great lengths to analyze virus specimens from across the world in order to predict which strains will be most prevalent that season.
- Getting your annual flu shot is incredibly important! Although it can’t promise that you’ll be 100% safe from the flu if you come into contact with the influenza virus, it will help you get over the illness faster and it will mitigate the symptoms.
- Flu shots are typically available starting around the end of summer and you can find the vaccine at any local family health clinic, emergency walk in clinic, at your doctor’s office, and sometimes even at a pharmacy. Most family health clinics do not require an appointment, around 85% of these clinics are open seven days a week (two-thirds even open before 9 a.m. on weekdays) and the typical insurance co-pay for a medical walk in clinic is between $35 and $55.
Most importantly, remember to ask your doctor if you should receive the vaccine before you visit your family health clinic. With or without the vaccine, the best way to stay healthy this winter is to know what you’re up against and to be prepared!