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Flu Season Information

Influenza, commonly known as flu, is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory organs including the nose, throat and lungs. The infection is normally seasonal, and it tends to peak during the fall and winter. Given that the onset of the flu is due to a virus, the illness doesn't have a cure. Nevertheless, for most people, the majority of flu symptoms tend to resolve on their own in about five days, though fatigue, weakness and cough can last for a couple of weeks.

At UPMC Pinnacle, the health of our patients and staff is our number one priority. If you are not feeling well, please do not visit patients in the hospital. This is especially true if you have cold, or flu-like symptoms (fever, congestion, sneezing, cough). It's not too late to get the flu shot. Even if you get it now, it will provide partial or full protection within two weeks. Call your primary care provider to schedule an appointment. Drive-through flu shot clinics are now available at several locations for current UPMC Pinnacle patients.

How to Prevent the Flu

Prevention is always better than a cure. While the flu does not have a cure, flu vaccine injections and nasal sprays can help prevent it.

Health experts recommend an annual flu vaccine for everyone over six months old. Each vaccine offers protection against most influenza viruses responsible for the seasonal flu. The vaccine comes in the form of nasal sprays and injections, and it's administered once every year.

While the nasal sprays do tend to be as effective as the injections, they aren't for everyone. Nasal sprays can have adverse effects on children ages two to four who have asthma, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

Who Is Most Vulnerable?

The flu virus can infect anyone. However, certain people are at a higher risk of catching the virus. These include:

  • Seniors aged 65 years and above
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems, e.g. cancer patients on chemotherapy and anti-rejection drugs, people living with HIV/AIDS, those using steroids on a long-term basis
  • Individuals with cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma or bronchitis patients
  • People with diabetes
  • Obese individuals with a body mass index of 40 or more
  • People under the age of 19 receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • People who live or work in crowded areas, such as nurses, doctors and servicemen

How Does the Flu Spread?

Influenza is highly contagious, and it is believed that the virus spreads by droplets that develop when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The virus can spread from an infected person to an uninfected person within the first three to four days after the illness begins. However, you may still be able to spread it to another person up to seven days after becoming sick.

One major concern is that flu vaccine is not 100% effective. This means you or a family member may still become infected even after receiving an annual shot. When this occurs, you should respond appropriately to control the spread of the infection.

Here are ways to prevent flu from spreading

  • Wash your hands: Considering the contagious nature of influenza, washing your hands with soap or using hand sanitizers can help stop the spread of the disease.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing: Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue to avoid contaminating your hands and spreading the virus.
  • Avoid crowded areas: Avoid crowds and stay at home to decrease the chance of infecting others or becoming infected yourself.

Symptoms of the Flu

The infection is normally characterized by symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, body aches, chills, sneezing and coughing. Considering this, it is very easy to confuse the flu for a common cold due to the striking similarities. However, flu symptoms are more severe, and at times, they can become fatal if left unchecked.

Here are common symptoms of the flu

  • Fever and chills
  • Coughs
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches

How to Treat the Flu

Influenza does not have a cure, but there are treatments available that may help relieve flu symptoms. Treatment may also prevent the onset of serious flu complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Available treatment options include

  • Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza
  • Pain relief medication to alleviate symptoms such as headache and body aches
  • Home remedies like consuming plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol, staying indoors and keeping warm

When to Visit a Doctor

In most cases, treating the flu does not require medical intervention. Most flu patients can treat themselves at home using over-the-counter antiviral drugs and home remedies. For some people, particularly young children, and older adults, flu symptoms may develop into complicated conditions. This may lead to serious ailments such as pneumonia, heart problems, bronchitis, asthma attacks and ear infections.

To prevent serious problems, it is advisable that you visit a doctor as soon as possible when you notice the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • High temperature after four or five days
  • Severe vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Flu symptoms that worsen
  • Severe coughing
  • Persistent dizziness

Hand Washing

Please remember to wash your hands frequently. Antibacterial hand sanitizer is available in the main lobbies, emergency department lobbies, patient rooms and nursing stations. Frequent hand washing will help prevent the spread of flu to our friends, family, patients, co-workers and their visitors.

Check for Flu Symptoms

Most healthy children and adults experiencing the following symptoms should stay home the first 24 hours. Those with high-risk health issues should call the doctor first, and consider getting care through their primary care doctor or urgent care center instead of going to the emergency room, unless symptoms worsen.

Symptoms are usually sudden and include:

  • Fever (often high)*
  • Headache (often severe)
  • Muscle/body aching (often severe)
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Sore Throat
  • Cough
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea (not as common as the other symptoms and less common in adults with the flu)

* It's important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

Flu Symptoms that Require Emergency Care

According to the Centers for Disease control, flu symptoms that require emergency care in children include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Significant irritability so that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

  • Inability or unwillingness to eat
  • Trouble breathing
  • No tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Do not give over-the-counter medication to children under four without physician approval.

According to the Centers for Disease control, flu symptoms that require emergency care in adults include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

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