It's FLU Season...

How do I know I have the flu? What can I do to prevent the flu? Should I get the flu shot?

What is the flu and how common is it?

Influenza (flu) is a disease caused by three viruses (influenza A, B, and C). Influenza A is a virus that is constantly changing, and usually responsible for the large outbreaks of the flu every few years. Influenza B causes smaller outbreaks, and C is related to mild flu symptoms. The flu differs from the common cold in that it has the added symptoms of high fever, headaches, and extreme exhaustion in many cases. Approximately 10-20% of the population gets the flu each year, taking 1-2 weeks on average to recover. Peak flu season is late December through March.

The term “stomach flu” which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, is not caused by the flu virus, but rather a different virus, bacteria, or parasites.

How do I get the flu?

The flu is contagious. The virus is inhaled after an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks sending the virus into the air. Less often, if someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches his/her nose or mouth, transmission can occur. Symptoms usually start 1 to 4 days after transmission, and that person is contagious to others one day prior to symptoms for about 7 days.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Body aches
  • Loss of appetite

Other Complications

(esp. in very young, very old, those with chronic medical conditions)
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinus/ear infections
  • Asthma sufferers may experience attacks more often
  • Chronic congestive heart failure sufferers may experience exacerbation of condition

How can I treat the flu on my own?

The flu is caused by a virus, so prescription antibiotics will not help. However, you can take medication such as Advil or Tylenol to treat the symptoms. Aspirin is not recommended. Otherwise, it’s important to rest, remain hydrated (drink plenty of fluids), and avoid alcohol and tobacco. For those in high risk groups, there are several prescription antiviral medications available.

Should I get the flu shot?

Yes! Anyone can get the flu, even the healthiest of us. Ideally, the flu shot is given prior to the flu season. It is especially recommended for college students, as the typical college settings are areas where it can spread easily. It is also important that those with other factors such as pregnancy, asthma/respiratory illness, chronic diseases, diabetes, or HIV get the flu vaccine for added protection.

Those who should NOT receive the flu vaccine before consulting with their doctor include the following

  • People who are allergic to eggs or thimerosal (preservative used in the vaccine)
  • People who have had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past
  • People who have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • People who are currently sick, have a fever, or have an acute respiratory infection should delay the flu vaccine until symptoms clear up

As a college student you don’t have time for the flu! Take precautions with friends who are displaying symptoms, cover your cough, wash your hands, drink plenty of water, and consider the flu shot in the future if you didn't get it this season. If you think you have the flu, keep it to yourself! Your friends will be much more willing to bring you homework, food and drink if you don’t share your virus with them!

Brown University Seasonal Flu