Take Steps to Avoid the Flu This Season

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AIKEN, SC (01/26/2018) The dreaded flu season seems to have hit the area, including the University of South Carolina Aiken.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death."

Usually flu symptoms start suddenly rather than gradually, according to the CDC. Some of the symptoms associated with the flu are: fever, feeling feverish or having chills; cough; sore throat; runny or stuffy nose; muscle or body aches; headaches; and fatigue.

While some flu patients may have a fever, the CDC says that may not be the case with every patient, as not everyone with flu will have a fever.

The CDC strongly urges getting a flu shot each year, saying it is "the first and best way" to try to avoid it. To help guard against it, the USC Aiken Student Health Center is offering free flu shots to all students.

"We have a limited supply, so please come in and get your free flu shot as soon as possible," said Kathy Kitchings, SHC nurse practitioner. "You cannot get the flu from the shot."

Kitchings encourages students to stop by the SHC when they're in the SAC for coffee. The center is conveniently located behind Starbucks. No appointments are necessary for flu shots, which are administered daily, 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Other prudent measures can make a difference too. Several additional -- and simple -- ways to try to keep the flu at bay include: washing hands often with soap and water -- for at least 20 seconds -- or sanitize them with an alcohol-based sanitizer and covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing then throwing away the tissue. Avoid spreading germs by touching the eyes, nose and mouth; keeping a distance from people with symptoms, like a fever, cough, and body aches; not sharing linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick; getting lots of sleep, seven to nine hours; disinfecting surfaces; and staying away from others when having symptoms.

"People with flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away," said Kitchings.

"Most experts believe flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into lungs.

"Even touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose can be harmful."

Therefore, flu patients are encouraged to limit contact with others while they are contagious and to stay home if sick. The virus can be especially harmful to young children, the elderly and those with chronic health problems.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body.

"You are contagious up to two days before you show symptoms and up to a week after you start showing symptoms," Kitchings said.

"That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick. Hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing and wearing a mask is extremely important during this time."

Those who may exhibit flu-like symptoms can stop by the Student Health Center. If a flu test is administered and the results are positive, patients will be given a prescription for Tamiflu - but only if they have been ill for less than 48 hours.

"Tamiflu does not work after 48 hours," said Kitchings.

The cost for this medication at local pharmacies is approximately $120 without insurance and $85-$110 with insurance.

Flu patients should drink lots of clear liquids to stay hydrated. Additionally, they can rotate Motrin and Tylenol, as directed, for symptoms.

"Over-the-counter flu medications can be helpful," Kitchings says.

She adds that some patients have used homeopathic treatments, such as Oscillococcinum capsules and Sambucol Black Elderberry, to lessen the effects of the flu. However, she explains that patients should always check with their primary physicians before taking anything.

Symptoms often erroneously associated with the flu are nausea and vomiting.

"These are not common symptoms of the flu, especially in adults," Kitchings said.

"If you experience vomiting lasting more than 24 hours you should seek emergency treatment."

Additionally, she says that if patients have chronic health issues - such as metabolic disorders; asthma; neurological conditions or seizures; chronic lung disease; blood disorders; or heart, liver, or kidney disease - they should contact their primary physicians for any further recommendations.

Kitchings also says that while flu season traditionally runs December to February, it can last as late as May.

For more information about the flu, go to: www.cdc.gov .