“Ugh… I got the flu!”

Influenza virus, image credit: CDC

We hear that said frequently, especially during October through spring, aka: flu season. But, did you know, that the flu is often mistakenly used to describe several unrelated illnesses?


So, what is the flu?

  • Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs
    • Causes mild to severe illness
    • Can at times lead to death
  • Influenza viruses are generally split into two types
    • Influenza A
      • Hits middle-aged and older adults harder
    • Influenza B
      • Hits children and young adults harder

This year, flu season started early and has hit hard. Test results show that Influenza B has been causing the most illnesses so far, which has led to seeing more children and younger adults who are ill.

Influenza can lead to death. During the 2018-2019 influenza season, 61,000 people died of influenza in the U.S. That’s more than three sold-out football crowds in the Fargodome.

Across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that influenza activity is high and still increasing. By December 28, 2019, the CDC estimated at least 6.4 million people had the flu; which included reports of 55,000 individuals being hospitalized and 2,900 deaths, including 27 children.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported widespread influenza activity across the state during the week of December 28, 2019. The department has also reported 505 Minnesotan hospitalizations and eight adult deaths due to influenza since late September.


People who have influenza often feel some, or all, of these symptoms which come on suddenly:

  • Fever of 101 degrees or higher; feeling feverish/chills
    • Not everyone will have a fever
  • Severe cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Rarely, nausea/vomiting or diarrhea (occurs more often in children or the elderly)

Influenza is very contagious. You may be able to spread flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.

This is why Perham Health asks individuals who have a fever or cough to wear a mask over their nose and mouth, to reduce spreading these virus-spreading droplets.


How can you avoid getting sick with influenza?

  • Getting your flu shot is still the best prevention – it’s not too late!
    • It takes about 14 days after vaccination to be protected
      • It’s possible to be exposed and get sick with influenza during this time
      • You can still get influenza if you’ve had the vaccine, but the severity of illness is generally lessened
    • Wash your hands often, or use hand sanitizer
    • Do not touch your eyes/nose/mouth with your hands (unless you just washed your hands)
    • Disinfect surfaces with soap and water


If you’re already ill:

  • Stay home and avoid contact with other people, as much as possible
    • Continue until fever has been gone for 24 hours without the use of medication
  • Rest and drink lots of fluids
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or sleeve
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often, especially after coughing or sneezing


How is influenza treated?

  • Most people who get the flu are sick for 3-5 days and recover on their own
    • Over the counter medication can help with fever or other symptoms
  • Antiviral medication can be prescribed if started at the beginning of the illness
    • Most (99%) of viruses tested this season can be treated with the four FDA-approved medications
  • Antibiotics will not help you feel better if you have influenza
    • Antibiotics cannot treat a viral illness, such as influenza
    • Some complications of influenza may require antibiotic treatment


Complications of influenza, which can be serious enough to require hospitalization or result in death, include:

  • Sinus or ear infection
  • Worsening of chronic medical problems, including asthma, heart disease, and diabetes
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Muscle issues
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Sepsis
  • Ask your health care provider if you are at increased risk of complications due to influenza.

Please call your health care provider if you or a family member has influenza symptoms you are concerned about.