This year’s flu season has been devastating, resulting in several deaths and hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently lists the 2017 to 2018 flu season as “moderately severe,” and warns it could get worse.
Although influenza activity usually begins in October and peaks between December and February, experts have said this year’s flu season could last until May, ABC News reports. Fifty-three children have died this season due to the flu, and hospitalizations rates are at a 10-year high, according to USA Today.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The viruses infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It most commonly causes only mild illness, but at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year, according to the CDC.
Though anyone can get the flu, people over 65, pregnant women, young children and people with certain chronic medial conditions (like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease) are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick, the CDC reports.
However, most people overcome the flu without severe complications.
Here’s what to do if you get the flu:
Take Antiviral Medication
Most people with the flu have only mild illness and usually don’t need medical care, but those who are “very sick” from the virus can take antiviral drugs, according to the CDC. The prescribed medications can shorten the length of the illness and prevent serious complications.
Tamiflu, the most commonly used antiviral treatment, is recommended for treatment in people 2 weeks of age and older who have had flu symptoms for no more than two days. Other FDA-approved, CDC-recommended antiviral treatments for this season include Relenza and Rapivab.
Antiviral drugs are not to be confused with antibiotics, Flor Munoz, an associate professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told USA Today. Antibiotics fight bacteria, and influenza is a virus. So, Munoz said, when taking antibiotics for the flu, you may experience only the medicine’s side effects.
However, antibiotics may be used if you develop a bacterial complication like an ear infection or pneumonia.
Get Rest and Drink Lots of Fluids
Staying hydrated is one of the best home remedies for the flu, Munoz told the site. Although hydrating solutions can be purchased for children, Munoz said simply drinking lots of water, eating soup and/or drinking tea are good ways to stay hydrated.
Dr. James Wild, a professor of emergency medicine at Augusta University, echoed Munoz’ statements to WRDW.
“Most people with the flu would do well to get some fluids, bed rest, and some Tylenol or Motrin to bring your flu down,” Wild told the station.
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Stay Home and Avoid Contact with People
The CDC recommends that people with the flu stay home from school, work, traveling, public gatherings, etc. for at least 24 hours after getting a fever — unless you’re going to get medical care.
“Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from infecting them,” the agency’s site states. “If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a facemask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others.”
The flu can usually last for up to several days, but less than two weeks, according to the CDC.
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Go to the Emergency Room If You Experience ‘Emergency Warning Signs’ of the Flu
Although mild illness does not usually require medical attention, the CDC recommends that people experiencing “emergency warning signs” of the flu go to a local emergency room. However, officials urge people with mild sickness to avoid the ER. “If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick with the flu, you may catch it from people who do have it,” the site states.
For adults, emergency warning signs include difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest and stomach area, sudden dizziness, vomiting, confusion, and persistent flu-like symptoms.
The CDC recommends ER visits for children having breathing troubles, not eating, children who are not interacting, are irritable, show no tears when crying, have a rash and fever, and have “significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.”
Take Precautions Against Septic Shock by Monitoring Your Illness
This flu season, a number of flu-related deaths have involved septic shock. Last month, a 21-year-old aspiring personal trainer, Kyler Baughman, died of organ failure due to septic shock caused by the flu. Sepsis occurs when an infection prompts the body to attack itself rather than the virus by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream.
Inflammation caused by sepsis can cause massive organ failure. Warning signs of sepsis include a body temperature of above 101 degrees or below 96.8 degrees fahrenheit, a heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute and a respiratory rate higher than 20 breaths a minute, according to The Mayo Clinic. It’s important to monitor fever levels and fluid intake while ill to lower the possibility of sepsis.
Severe sepsis symptoms include those of standard sepsis as well as a decrease in urine output, stomach pain and abnormal heart pumping functions, difficulty breaking and an abrupt change in mental status. Early treatment of sepsis, usually with antibiotics and intravenous fluids can improve a person’s changes of survival, according to the Clinic.
Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die, according to sepsis.org. If you have the flu or an infection, monitoring your condition and change in bodily habits can decrease your risk of developing sepsis.