Influenza protection

Jorge L. Salinas, MD, former infectious disease specialist and hospital epidemiologist with University of Iowa Health Care, shares tips on how to protect yourself from the flu and what you should do if you have the flu.

Every year more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with influenza, and about 36,000 die from the disease. Taking preventive action will help reduced the impact and the spread of influenza.

The symptoms of influenza include fever equal to or greater than 100 degrees F, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Influenza viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something.

The most important step you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones against becoming ill with influenza is to get your flu shot. 

The following steps will also protect your health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, sleeve or crook of your arm when you cough or sneeze, not with your hand. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Also use hand sanitizers often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.

People infected with an influenza virus may be able to infect others as much as one full day before having symptoms. In general, most people recover from influenza within four to seven days.

When to seek care

Pregnant women and anyone diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or kidney disorders, face a higher risk of being hospitalized due to complications related to influenza. People in those categories should consult their physician, or seek emergency medical care if they experience any of the following warning signs:

In children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Antibiotics will not benefit patients with an influenza-like illness, but medications called Oseltamivir or Zanamivir can help ease the severity of the symptoms and help shorten to length of the illness by about one day. 

Last reviewed: 
June 2017

Interested in using our health content?