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Do you think spring signals the end of flu season? Think again -- the flu is caused by a virus that pays little attention to the changing seasons. That means your flu precautions should extend well into spring and even summer, especially if anyone in your family falls into a high-risk category such as the elderly. Consider a few things you probably don’t know about influenza and what you can do to prevent it all year round.
The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. With it, you can expect the usual sniffles, sneezing and sore throat along with a fever. The influenza virus is an airborne disease – in other words, you inhale it through the air. It is also transferred by contact, for example, you might pick up the virus from a doorknob and then rub your eye.
Most people are contagious with the illness before they even know they are sick. It is most potent a day or so before the sniffles start and remains contagious for up to five or more days after you feel sick.
They are very similar, but the flu is like the common cold on steroids. Even in a healthy adult, influenza can become life-threatening.
Common complications from the flu include:
A cold, on the other hand, tends to be milder and less likely to cause serious complications.
The common cold is more of an umbrella term for any kind of upper respiratory infection – usually viral. The flu is a very specific infection, though, one that affects both the upper and lower respiratory system.
The symptoms are similar but more pronounced with the flu.
With a cold you might expect:
Cold symptoms will last about a week and during the first three days, you remain contagious. That’s a good time to stay home from work or school.
With influenza, you may experience:
Simply put, when you have the flu, you will feel much worse. For most individuals, the flu symptoms start to disappear in about five days, but you may still feel tired for a week or so afterward.
The best treatment for the flu is to avoid getting it in the first place. Hand washing is the first line of defense for you and your family. Teach your kids about the importance of washing their hands often, and keep hand sanitizer close by for when you can’t wash. If you do feel a cough coming on, carry tissues with you to cover your mouth and nose. When you are sick, either with a cold or the flu, stay home to avoid spreading the infection.
There are certain times of year when the flu is more prevalent in part because people stay indoors more when it’s cold out, so it spreads easier. The virus that causes the flu, though, is available all year long.