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What Is the Flu?

The flu (influenza) is a virus that attacks the respiratory system. The infection is found in the nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. While there are two main types of virus (A and B), each type includes many different strains that vary from year to year. You can see the number of flu cases in your area by checking this map.

Flu Symptoms

Symptoms of influenza are very similar to those of the common cold. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Severe body aches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea and intestinal problems (more common in young children)

How to Prevent the Flu

Influenza is spread easily and is highly contagious. It spreads through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person. You can do a number of things to prevent the spread of the flu.

  • Get vaccinated. There are plenty of opportunities to receive a flu vaccination. Your local Avera facility will be able to provide you with the flu shot. It is important to be vaccinated every year.
  • Wash your hands frequently. This is especially important after coughing or sneezing and before eating. Sing Happy Birthday as a measurement for how long you should scrub your hands.
  • Cough into a tissue or into your arm, not your hands. Be sure to throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Keep your hands away from your face, especially your mouth and nose.
  • Do not share food items or utensils. Eat healthy foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, and aim for plenty of rest each night.
  • Do not visit people in the hospital or long-term-care facilities if you have any flu-like symptoms. People in these environments have a greater chance of catching the flu.
  • Stay home if you feel ill. After having a fever, you are no longer contagious if you have been fever free for a full 24 hours without the help of fever-reducing medications.

Christiane Lounsbery, Pharm D., pharmacy manager at Avera Health Plans, provides more tips on the flu at the Avera Story Center.

How Is Influenza Treated?

In most cases the flu is treated by rest and liquids. There are prescription antiviral drugs that when taken within 48 hours of the onset of the flu can reduce the duration and severity of the infection. No drugs can cure the flu. The antiviral medications can be prescribed only by your health care provider.

Who Is At the Most Risk for Influenza?

While anyone can get the flu, some people are at a higher risk of contracting the flu virus than others.

  • Children ages 6 months – 5 years
  • Pregnant women
  • Adults age 50 and older
  • Residents of long-term-care facilities
  • People with chronic illnesses and their caregivers
  • Health care workers
  • Children and adults with conditions that compromise respiratory function