Flu Facts

Flu facts

What is the Flu?

The “Flu,” short for “Influenza,” is a contagious, VIRAL infection of the airway tract which affects the nose and throat.

Occasionally it can spread down into the lungs.  It occurs every year, mainly in the late fall and early winter, and can affect people of all ages.  Every year in the United States, on average 5-20% of the population gets the Flu.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications of the Flu, and about 36,000 people die from the flu.

Is the Flu contagious?

Yes.  The Flu is spread by virus-infected droplets, which are coughed or sneezed into the air.  It can also be spread when you come into contact with an infected person’s secretions (such as kissing or sharing silverware).  You can also transfer the virus to your hands by touching smooth surfaces like doorknobs, handles, and telephones.  Then when you touch your nose or mouth, it can be absorbed into the body.

Why is the Flu worse in winter?

Virus particles last longer indoors than outdoors in the winter because of the inside warmth.  Also the relative humidity of air inside is less than outside, allowing virus particles to survive longer.  Since people tend to stay indoors during the winter, we shed more virus inside and have closer contact with each other.  Both conditions make it easier for the flu to spread.

How long does the Flu last?

In most people, the fever and symptoms will resolve within 5 days.  However, the cough and weakness may linger longer.  All symptoms should resolve with 1-2 weeks.  However, some people feel better and then take a turn for the worse.  These people need to be re-evaluated by a doctor because in rare causes, the Flu can decrease the body’s immunity, allowing a bacterial pneumonia to enter.

How long are you contagious with the Flu once you have it?

Usually, a person is contagious 3-5 days after the onset of the illness.  In young children, it may be contagious for more than 1 week.

Why doesn’t my doctor give me an antibiotic to treat the Flu?

Remember, the Flu is a virus.  Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, so they can’t cure the Flu or even a cold.  Antibiotics are only helpful for bacterial infections such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections.

Do you have the FLU or a COLD?

 A COLD often starts with fatigue, coughing, sneezing and a runny nose.  You may or may not run a fever, one or two degrees above normal.  After a day or two you may have a scratchy or sore throat, watery eyes and a headache.  As the cold intensifies, you may find your watery runny nose may thicken and change colors to yellow or green.  Usually, symptoms last 5-7 days, but maybe as long as 10 days.  Symptoms will vary with each cold.  Most adults will have 1-2 colds a year; children may have as many as 5-8.

The FLU often develops quickly (1 to 4 days after a person is exposed to the virus). Symptoms are often severe and include high fever (up to 105°F) and weakness.  Fever can last 3-5 days and weakness can persist for a week.  The accompanying cough may last up to 3 weeks.

 Common symptoms of the FLU include:




Muscle aches, joint aches, aches around the eyes



Loss of appetite

Cough (often dry)

Sore throat

Runny nose

Nausea and/or vomiting

Ear infection


Now that I’ve got the FLU, what can I do to feel better?

Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke

Rest at home.  Avoid physical exertion.  Give up the urge to go to the gym and sweat out the flu.

Drink plenty of fluids like water, fruit juice and Gatorade to loosen mucus and prevent dehydration.  Try not to drink only water because it lacks electrolytes that the body needs such as sodium and potassium.  As an alternative, try frozen flavored ice.

Hot tea or chicken soup can help loosen mucus and soothe a sore throat

Avoid all alcohol

Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to help relieve sore throats (1 tsp salt in 1 cup of water)

Suck on cough lozenges or hard candy to ease the tickle in the back or your throat and quiet your cough

Saline nose drops (take ½ tsp salt in 1 cup of water) may loosen mucus in the nose and moisten tender nose under the skin.

Some children may not be able to blow their noses and may benefit from saline nose drops sprayed and then sucked out their with a baby suction bulb.

 Steam inhalations may be useful for opening up blocked nasal passages.  Try this by steaming up the bathroom with the shower running on hot.  Inhale the steaming air.

How do I prevent the Flu from spreading?

You can reduce you risk of transmitting or getting the Flu, but no way is 100% effective for preventing the Flu.  Here are some tips for decreasing the spread of any infection:

The single best way to prevent the Flu is by getting the Flu vaccine in October or November each year.

Wash you hands THOROUGHLY and FREQUENTLY.  You may even want to have hand washing solutions such as Purell Hand Sanitizer® around in your pocket or at work.

Never pick up discarded tissues.

Never share cups or eating utensils until you feel better.

Stay home from work or school until you feel better.

Cough your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze.

Avoid large crowds during a Flu outbreak

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