This year, the flu is hitting later than usual, so even though winter may be fleeing, the flu is not. For many people, flu symptoms can appear seemingly out of nowhere, so it's important to understand the symptoms.
"You feel well and all of a sudden there's an overwhelming feeling of being ill," says Dr. Todd Detar of Roper St. Francis Healthcare. "It's almost like you got hit by a bus."
Here's how to know if you've gotten the flu, and what you can do to protect yourself and others.
How Do I Know It's the Flu?
You're experiencing a runny nose, cough and sore throat. How do you know it's not just a bad cold? First, Dr. Detar says, you'll likely notice a sudden onset -- that "hit by a bus" feeling.
Next, pay attention to the severity of the illness. If your body is aching and you feel like you just can't move, those are signs it's the flu.
"A lot of illnesses can mimic influenza, but I think influenza is a little different because it's so overwhelming to patients," Dr. Detar says. "They'll appear very ill. They won't want to move and they'll just want to lay there."
And then there's fever. "It will usually be over 100, with chills from the fever," Dr. Detar says. "Your body's trying to get your temperature down, so you become racked with chills and cold."
How Is It Treated?
Patients are strongly recommended to take Tamiflu, a medication that helps minimize symptoms if taken within two days of the initial symptoms.
Otherwise, Dr. Detar recommends alternating acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to ease body aches and fever; cough and mucus relief medications; and of course, lots of rest. It's also important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
How Can I Protect Myself and Others?
You'll be contagious for five to seven days after the onset of the flu, so stay home during that period to avoid putting others at risk. Even if you're being treated, just one cough or sneeze in public could spread the virus.
To be proactive, it's always a good idea to get a flu shot. "The flu shot this year was about 50 percent accurate, so it's helped a lot," Dr. Detar says. "In the Lowcountry it's best to get the shot in October. It will protect you and takes two weeks to work. Remember getting the flu shots doesn't stop you from getting the flu but it lessens the symptoms and hospitalizations. And, of course, wash your hands as frequently as possible and cough into your elbow to be diligent about not spreading germs.
One misconception about the flu is that patients can quickly get rid of their cough, but unfortunately, even after you're feeling better, your cough can linger for several weeks.
"I know it's frustrating for the doctor and the patient, but sometimes, your body just has to heal, and that takes time," Dr. Detar says. "You're not contagious, you just have an irritation, and it takes time to heal those cells that were damaged."
As the Lowcountry leader in adult healthcare, Roper St. Francis can take care of all of your primary healthcare needs. To learn more about all the healthcare services available or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 402-CARE or visit RSFH.com.