The “flu” is the common term for influenza, which is a viral infection that targets the respiratory system. The flu will normally be resolved on its own but severe cases can be deadly if untreated.
Flu season varies in different parts of the country and from season to season but will often occur between the months of December and May when the flu virus is most prominent.
To date, CDC estimates that this season (2018 – 2019), in the United States, the flu has caused between:
6.2 million to 7.3 million flu illnesses
2.9 to 3.5 million medical visits
69,300 to 83,500 hospitalizations
To stay healthy this season, check out these helpful tips:
Vaccinations can help prevent the development and spread of the flu, doctors’ visits, and potentially hospitalization.
Wash Your Hands
The flu is spread by contact, so washing your hands more often can prevent illness.
Avoid Contact with Sick People
The flu is very contagious, so avoiding contact with those infected can be an effective way to avoid illness.
Don’t Touch Your Face
The virus can enter your body through your nose, eyes, and mouth. Avoid touching your face.
Increasing your heart rate can boost your body’s natural virus-killing cells.
Eat More Fruits & Veggies
Boost your immune system by eating more fruits and vegetables, especially those that are high phytochemicals (dark green, re or yellow fruits and vegetables).
Keep A Clean Home
Use disinfectants to clean your home. Focus particularly on the kitchen and bathroom areas.
Take Time To Relax
Stress can weaken your immune system. Strengthen your immune system with rest, sleep and relaxation; it’s vital for physical recovery!
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Drinking alcohol disrupts your immune system. These disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury.
Smoking (and secondhand smoke) can cause inflammatory changes in your lungs diverting your immune system from fighting infections.
Take preventive measures today to take care of your heart and body. In the past few months, the U.S. has witnessed one of the worst flu seasons since the swine-flu pandemic of 2009. A recent study suggests that the flu doesn’t just cause aches, chills, and fatigue but it may also increase the risk of a heart attack. The study shows a six-fold increase in heart attacks shortly after people get the flu.1
The Flu Season
The flu season usually begins in October or November and peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May, according to the CDC. Each year, the flu is estimated to cause between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths and up to 710,000 hospitalizations in the U.S.1
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu shot. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend the shot for people with heart disease.
Another way to protect yourself against disease is to improve your heart health. The American Heart Association has started a ‘Healthy For Good’ revolutionary movement to inspire you to create lasting change in your health and your life, one small step at a time. The following are excellent ways to boost your immune system and prevent diseases.
Eat Smart to Stay Healthy
A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons against cardiovascular disease. Eating healthy doesn’t mean dieting or giving up the foods you love.
Eat more plants! When you eat a vegetarian diet, be sure to add foods rich in iron, Vitamin B12, Calcium, and Zinc.
Limit sweets, fatty or processed meats, solid fats like butter, and salty or highly processed foods.
Avoid bad fats (solid or saturated fats from animal sources like meat, dairy, and tropical oils) and incorporate healthier fats (nontropical liquid oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, and fatty fish) into your diet.
Stock your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Ditch the processed and junk foods!
Instead of eliminating foods you love, concentrate on eating smaller portions.
Eat reasonable portions, even when you’re served more than you need (Split an entrée when dining out).
A good starting goal is at least 150 minutes a week, but if you don’t want to sweat the numbers, just move more! Find forms of exercise you enjoy and will stick with, and build more opportunities to be active into your routine.
Start walking – begin with a few minutes each day, and add more minutes each week.
Find ways to make walking fun, whether that’s changing your route, inviting friends or listening to your favorite podcast.
Don’t skip out on your warm-up, 5-10 minutes is a good rule of thumb.
Get the whole family moving – adding exercise is easier when it’s a shared activity.
Make time during a busy day for activity by going for a brisk walk during your lunch break or taking the stairs as often as possible.
Cool down after a workout to help your body reset and recover a little bit easier – this is the best time to stretch when your muscles are still warm.
Turn TV time into a workout – during every commercial break do a body weight exercise (squats, push ups, jumping jacks).
An easy first step to eating healthy is to include fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. All forms (fresh, frozen, canned and dried) and all colors count, so go ahead and add color to your plate – and your life!
To mix up your spaghetti routine, add an imposter pasta such as one made from black bean, edamame, chick pea or a vegetable pasta such as zucchini noodles.
Roast vegetables in high heat to caramelize and bring out their natural flavors; don’t overdo it with salt or sauces.
Grill fruits to unlock a deeper sweetness and give their color some char.
Add color to your plate with the 5 main color groups: red and pink, blue and purple, yellow and orange, white and brown and green. Check out healthyforgood.heart.org for examples from each group.
Look at your plate each time you eat, and if it’s too beige, add a serving of fruits or vegetables.
Go meatless – add mushrooms in place of beef, go with veggies and beans in your stir fry or use thick cut eggplant in place of chicken.
Along with eating right and being active, better health requires getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, managing stress, keeping your mind and body fit, and connecting socially.
Be more active, limit caffeine before bed, and establish a better sleep routine.
Neutralize your racing mind by acknowledging thoughts as they come and letting them pass freely.
Focus on healthy outlets for stress, like taking a walk, journaling, volunteering or a hobby that you love.
Take time out for you – use your vacation days, whether you go on a big trip or just hang at home for a staycation.
Don’t overlook your emotional and mental health – get help if you need it to manage stress, anxiety, depression or grief.
Practice deep breathing techniques by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth slowly and deliberately.
Take preventive measures to avoid stress, like leaving a few minutes earlier to avoid being late, or avoiding busy roads so you can stay calm while driving.
In high-anxiety situations, give yourself some space – take a walk and come back later when tensions subside.
Prevent the Flu
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu viruses.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
If you are sick with a flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness.
Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines and are not available over-the-counter.
Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications.2
Have you ever shown symptoms and wondered whether you have a cold or the flu? This is because having a cold and having the flu can display similar symptoms. Check out the chart below, find out which infection you have, and follow the day-by-day advice given below.
Hold off on calling the Doctor. There is no prescription drug that your doctor can prescribe that will shorten the length of the common cold. A cold is a viral infection that cannot be treated by antibiotics, which fight bacterial infections. Furthermore, antiviral drugs are used to ease symptoms of the flu, so it cannot be used to calm a cold. However, you can take the following over-the-counter drugs to ease the pain of the common cold:
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
Practice extra good hygiene
When we are sick, we often want to stay home. However, if you venture out into the public it is extremely important to take extra measures to not spread what you have. To help stop the spread of germs:
Cough/Sneeze into your hands (then touch another object)
Wash hands with soap and water regularly (Especially after sneezing and/or coughing)
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
Cough or sneeze into a cloth (ig. tissue, your upper sleeve, elbow)
If you use a tissue, make sure to put in a trashcan
Consider taking vitamin C
Avoid exhausting yourself
When it comes to exercise, moderate activity may help a little, but working out until you sweat may even prolong your symptoms according to Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.
Take preventive measures and prepare for what comes next
As shown in the chart above, a sore throat is likely the first symptom to roll around. Shortly after, symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and runny nose start developing. If you are a fan of taking the non-drug route, here are a few suggestions of what you can do to ease these symptoms:
Honey or salt-water gargle to ease sore throat
Saline nasal spray to east congestion
Eat warm soup or drink warm beverages to thin mucus
Consider calling your healthcare provider
If your symptoms do not improve or are worsening, think about reaching out to your healthcare provider. The common cold is a viral infection, but you could also be developing a bacterial infection, which would require antibiotics. You may have another issue, such as allergies (immune reaction to a foreign substance in the body, bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial lining), or pneumonia (infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs).
On the first day of having the flu you are highly contagious, so it is best to not spread germs. The flu usually lasts for 1-2 weeks but after a few days, symptoms may ease, and you can reconsider going out. Have someone bring in some flu-survival basics such as:
Don’t push yourself too hard
As the flu settles in the body, it needs plenty of rest. Instead of pushing yourself too hard doing daily tasks, climb into bed and get the rest your body deserves. Doing too much, especially in the early stages of illness, can weaken your body.
Ask your doctor for an antiviral drug
These drugs can shorten the duration of the flu by a day and reduce the risk of pneumonia and other complications. However, it only works if you start taking it 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Examples of antiviral drugs are Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza). Use caution with these drugs, especially if you are:
65 years or older
Younger than 5 years old
Pregnant or just had a baby
Have a chronic disease such as asthma, heart disease, or other chronic diseases
Remember to consult with your physician before taking any medication
The flu often starts off with a temperature over 100° F. To ease head and body aches that come with the flu, you can take:
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
Fluids, Fluids, Fluids! Fevers can increase the chances of becoming dehydrated, so drinking plenty of water is a must. Try mixing a salty liquid such as chicken or vegetable broth and a sweet liquid like tea, juice, or iced fruit pops. According to Patricia A. Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner, the mixture will replace electrolytes, promote full hydration and may help thin out thick mucus.
Monitor your temperature A low-grade fever itself is not harmful, however, it can mean that you are still contagious. Monitoring your temperature can keep you up to date on if your temperature spikes or not. In young children, temperature spikes may trigger seizures.
Reach out to your healthcare provider if needed Watch out for complications such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, or if you experience disorientation. These are signs that indicate pneumonia, bronchitis, or dehydration. The individuals vulnerable to these conditions are:
People with chronic conditions
You should also reach out to your healthcare provider if drinking or urinating become difficult or is painful.
Invest in some natural remedies After a few days of having the flu in your system, the body aches and fevers may by gone but sore throat and cough often continue for a while longer. Here are a few good remedies that will be useful during this time:
Plenty of tea or soup
If you feel that you are recovering and have been without a fever for 24 hours, then you many consider getting back to school or work.
Do not panic Like mentioned above, the flu can last up to 1-2 weeks. If you feel that you are in the process of recovering, just continue what you have been doing and little by little, you should be on your way to full recovery.
Call your healthcare provider If you are not improving or you are showing signs of complications, you may be developing pneumonia, sinusitis, or another health-related issue. Call you healthcare provider to learn more about what you can do.