Flu symptoms: prevention, early signs, hand hygiene are key

February 12, 2020

With nearly 3,000 cases of influenza in Delaware as of Jan. 31, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health, residents are pouring into walk-in clinics and primary care offices.

Sussex County already has seen over 300 more cases of flu than this time last year. In Delaware, four deaths have been attributed to the flu.

It is important to remember that influenza is caused by a virus and antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections. It’s also important not to overuse antibiotics, as this increases the possibility of bacteria becoming resistant to them.

The flu can range from a mild illness, which is most common, to a life-threatening illness if pneumonia or other complications develop. It is important to reach out to your primary care physician if you are concerned that you have the flu.

Here is a handy guide for prevention, symptoms and what to do about the flu.

The best way to prevent influenza is through influenza vaccination along with ongoing hand hygiene. There are multiple flu strains, and the flu vaccine can protect you against three to four of these strains by boosting your immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies can significantly reduce flu symptoms.

In addition to the vaccine, hygiene habits can also play a vital role to help reduce the spread of influenza.

Good hand hygiene tips include washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day, especially after using the restroom and before eating, and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available. Using a tissue or your arm to cover a cough or sneeze instead of using your hand is an absolute must. This simple practice can stop the spread of droplets that could carry the flu virus and other viruses. Consider the contact you have with germs on your hand as you touch doorknobs, railings, tables, telephone receivers, and other items.

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting.

Most people who have the flu should stay in bed, get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids and stay away from other people. You should not return to work or school until 24 to 48 hours after the fever is gone (without the use of medication) and you are feeling better.

If you are able to see a provider during early onset of the flu, you may benefit from anti-influenza medication, which has been shown to reduce the length of flu symptoms by about ½ to 1 day.

In addition, there are medications that will help you lessen symptoms while your body recovers. Over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants can help dull symptoms. Home remedies like honey, tea, and plenty of fluids are beneficial, too. Make sure you discuss taking over-the-counter medications with your primary care provider, especially if you are on prescription medications.

There are times when medical attention is advised. People at high risk of developing flu-related complications should seek medical attention. They include but are not limited to: children under 5 years old, adults over 65, pregnant women, and people with certain conditions including asthma, heart and lung disease, liver or kidney disorders, metabolic disorders or weakened immune systems

There are warnings signs that could require a trip to the hospital emergency department, or even a call to 911.

In children, potentially serious warning signs include: fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids – no tears when crying or few wet diapers, not waking up or not interacting, and fever with a rash.

In adults, potentially serious warning signs include: difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion. severe or persistent vomiting, flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough, and chest pain.

William Chasanov, DO, MBA, is an infectious disease physician,
clinical transformation director and medical director of Beebe Employee Health at Beebe Healthcare.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter