SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – Scrub your hands. Cover your cough. Get your flu vaccine. Stay home if you feel ill.
Now is the time to refresh yourself and your family about the best ways to avoid getting the flu, and to avoid spreading it if you do get sick.
Other respiratory viruses are more common during the winter months, too. Most of these recommendations also help reduce the spread of those sicknesses.
Flu season generally starts in October and peaks between January and March. However, each season is different. Some stretch into spring, with multiple strains of the influenza (flu) virus circulating. Others are shorter. The severity of each season also is unpredictable.
Compared to the common cold, the onset of the flu is often more abrupt, the fever higher, and the overall illness more severe. Typically, when someone gets the flu, they quickly begin feeling ill and may have a fever of up to 102 or 103 degrees F, body aches, sore throat and/or cough for one to two days. The illness gradually improves over the next several days, but it may be a week or two before someone is fully recovered. A residual cough and fatigue can last for several weeks. Occasionally, a second infection such as pneumonia or a sinus infection can appear several weeks after the flu, marked by the return of a fever and other symptoms.
The key steps for home care when you are sick with the flu are resting, drinking fluids (at least 2 liters per day for adults) and eating food as you are able. Using pain relievers and fever reducers like Tylenol or ibuprofen as directed can reduce symptoms, as can decongestants and cough suppressants. However, these medicines do not shorten the illness, and may be damaging to the liver if taken in excess.
While most people recover with rest and basic care, the illness is more dangerous for some. People older than 65, children younger than 2, pregnant or recently-pregnant women, and people with chronic health problems like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or obesity are more likely to have severe cases of the flu. People with such conditions should contact their health care provider or go to a non-emergency urgent care clinic within the first 24 hours of a flu-like illness to see if they might benefit from treatment with antiviral medications.
Someone with flu-like symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately and/or go to the hospital if they also:
- Have an extremely high temperature (>101 in children or >103 in older children and adults
- Are confused or can’t be woken up
- Have difficulty breathing
- Feel pain or pressure in their chest or abdomen
- Have blue lips
- Are not drinking enough fluids or keep vomiting them up
- For children: Have any fever (>100) and are younger than 3 months, or are excessively irritable
During the 2018-19 flu season in Snohomish County, 26 influenza-related deaths and 362 hospitalizations were reported to the Health District. Thirty-one schools reported more than 10 percent student absences with flu-like symptoms, and 11 long-term care facilities reported outbreaks.
There are ways to reduce the spread of the flu.
Children older than 6 months and adults are encouraged to get their flu vaccine, ideally by the end of October. The vaccine is available through most medical providers and at a number of local pharmacies.
Another crucial step to avoid spreading the illness is handwashing. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with clean, running water and soap. Scrub palms, backs of hands and between fingers. Teach children to do the same. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. Singing a short song may help children remember to scrub long enough.
Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue to minimize the spread of germs. If you do not feel well, stay home and avoid contact with the elderly, small children and chronically ill people. Before returning to work, school or daycare after being sick, you or your child should have a temperature under 100.4 degrees F for a full 24 hours without taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Information on symptoms, treatment and the flu vaccine, along with weekly reports during flu season, are available online at www.snohd.org/flu.
The Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier community through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. To read more about the District and for important health information, visit www.snohd.org.