The Facts on Flu from RWJBarnabas Health

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, which can cause mild to severe illness. Those over 65, young children and people with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, are at high risk for serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. While children under 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, they are too young to be vaccinated. Those who care for them should be vaccinated instead.

Prevention is Key

The most important thing you can do to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated as early as possible in the season. Flu season typically peaks in January or February, but it can occur earlier. As long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Visit your physician, clinic or a local pharmacy to get the vaccine. While the flu vaccine may cause a mild reaction such as soreness at the injection site or a headache, it will not cause the flu.

In addition, it’s important to keep healthy by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising and drinking water. Those healthy habits will help prevent the flu and other illnesses.

Stay away from people who are ill and wash hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. If someone in your home has the flu, make sure not to share eating utensils or linens, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, smart phones, tablets, keyboards and television remotes.

If You Get the Flu

  • Call your primary care doctor as soon as possible. He or she may be able to provide you with an antiviral drug that will lessen symptoms, decrease complications, and shorten the duration of being ill. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within two days of getting sick.
  • Stay home and get plenty of rest and fluids. Water, tea or healthy juices are all good choices for keeping hydrated while sick. Eliminate drinks with caffeine that will dehydrate you even further.

For a referral to a Primary Care Physician, online physician directory at rwjbh.org.