Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Although current influenza activity is still relatively low, cases of influenza are actively being diagnosed along the front range in Colorado. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
* It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
What you can do:
- Get lots of rest. Cover up with a blanket to conserve energy.
- Drink liquids. Think water, clear juices, hot soup or tea and sports drink.
- Take a steamy shower. Or if you’re dizzy, just sit in a steamy bathroom.
- Blow your nose instead of sniffing. Don’t blow too hard.
- Gargle with warm salt water.
- Put hot or cold packs on your forehead. Try a hot washcloth or bag of frozen veggies.
- Prop your head up to sleep.
- Take pain medication. Try acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. Don’t give aspirin to children or teenagers.
When to call a doctor or schedule or seek a medical evaluation:
- Fever lasts for more than 3 days; symptoms for more than 10
- Symptoms appear to improve but return with fever and worse cough
- Trouble breathing; bluish skin color(immediate medical care advised at an emergency facility for this symptom)
- Earache or drainage
- Confusion, irritability, changes in mental state
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Severe pain in face, forehead or chest
- Fainting or seizures
What kinds of flu tests are there?
A number of flu tests are available to detect influenza viruses. The most common are called “rapid influenza diagnostic tests.” These tests can provide results in 30 minutes or less. Unfortunately, the ability of these tests to detect the flu can vary greatly. Therefore, you could still have the flu, even though your rapid test result is negative. In addition to rapid tests, there are several more accurate and sensitive flu tests available that must be performed in specialized laboratories, such as those found in hospitals or state public health laboratories. All of these tests require that a health care provider swipe the inside of your nose or the back of your throat with a swab and then send the swab for testing. These tests do not require a blood sample.
How well can rapid tests detect the flu?
During an influenza outbreak, a positive rapid flu test is likely to indicate influenza infection. However, rapid tests vary in their ability to detect flu viruses, depending on the type of rapid test used, and on the type of flu viruses circulating. Also, rapid tests appear to be better at detecting flu in children than adults. This variation in ability to detect viruses can result in some people who are infected with the flu having a negative rapid test result. (This situation is called a false negative test result.) Despite a negative rapid test result, your health care provider may diagnose you with flu based on your symptoms and their clinical judgment.
- The flu is contagious. It can be spread from the day before symptoms appear, to between seven and 14 days after getting sick.
- wash hands frequently, especially after coughing or blowing your nose
- avoid people who are sick and attempt to isolate individuals at home that are ill
- cover mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- ask your doctor about vaccination—flu vaccine available at all AFM offices
Will my health care provider test me for flu if I have flu-like symptoms?
Not necessarily. Most people with flu symptoms do not require testing because the test results usually do not change how you are treated.
Your health care provider may diagnose you with flu based on your symptoms and their clinical judgment or they may choose to use an influenza diagnostic test. During an outbreak of respiratory illness, testing for flu can help determine if flu viruses are the cause of the outbreak. Flu testing can also be helpful for some people with suspected flu who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, and for whom a diagnosis of flu can help their doctor make decisions about their care.
The staff at any of the Associates in Family Medicine clinics can assist with any questions regarding influenza and can assist in determing if your symptoms are typical of influenza. Please call any clinic location for assistance. Extensive additional information is available at the Centers for Disease Controls http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/.