More than half of the country is reporting widespread flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross wants everyone to know how to best protect themselves against the flu.
Flu season in the United States usually happens during the winter, with the number of cases peaking in January or later. This year is no different, with 30 of our 50 states reporting widespread influenza. Also, more people are visiting doctors for treatment of flu-like illness.
The states reporting high flu activity include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The common signs of influenza are:
- High fever
- Severe body aches
- Extreme tiredness
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea (more common in children)
The virus can spread through droplets when someone coughs, sneezes or talks and can infect people up to about six feet away. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth or nose. Healthy adults may be able to infect others a day before any symptoms show up, and up to five days after getting sick. So, you can spread the flu virus before you know you are sick, and for up to five days after getting sick.
The best protection against influenza is to get a flu vaccination, and it’s not too late to do so. Besides vaccination, the Red Cross has some simple steps people can take to help prevent the spread of the flu:
- Don’t cough or sneeze into your hands. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
- Wash your hands often, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers (60 percent to 95 percent alcohol) are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you’re sick. Avoid spreading the virus to your classmates or co-workers and stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
If someone in your household does come down with the flu, the Red Cross wants you to know the best way to care for them:
- Designate one person as the caregiver.
- Keep everyone’s personal items separate. All household members should avoid sharing pens, papers, clothes, towels, sheets, blankets, food or eating utensils unless cleaned between uses.
- Disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, computers, telephones, toys and other surfaces that are commonly touched around the home or workplace.
- Wash everyone’s dishes in the dishwasher or by hand using very hot water and soap.
- Wash everyone’s clothes in a standard washing machine as you normally would. Use detergent and very hot water and wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
- Wear disposable gloves when in contact with or cleaning up body fluids.
It may be difficult to tell if you are suffering from the flu or another illness. Your health-care provider should be consulted if you are concerned about possible complications from flu-like symptoms. You can find more information about how to help keep you and your loved ones protected from the flu virus by visiting www.redcross.org.