It's peak flu season, says UAB infectious disease expert Richard Whitley, M.D., and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama is one of the handful of states where flu is widespread.
"It will continue to occur, and it will continue to congest our emergency departments and our physicians' offices. Both children and adults will get hospitalized with influenza this year, and you can expect it to increase through the end of February," says Whitley, the Loeb Eminent Scholar Chair of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
To avoid the virus, Whitley offers these simple suggestions: Wash your hands often, stay away from those who are sick and, most important, get vaccinated.
"Everybody needs to be immunized against the flu," says Whitley, who also is immediate-past president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Whitley says it's not too late to get your yearly flu shot, even if you think you've already had the flu this season. Those who are considered high risk to get the flu—pregnant women, children ages 5 and younger and the elderly—should get vaccinated.
Also, don't worry that this shot will give you the flu, Whitley says; this isn't possible. "There's no way you can get influenza from the vaccine. If an individual is vaccinated and they develop influenza like symptoms, it means is they've been exposed to another respiratory virus in the community that has caused disease in them; but it's not influenza," Whitley adds.
Whitley says you should go see your doctor if you do experience flu-like symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
There are antiviral drugs that can treat the flu and help you get better, faster. Plus, Whitley says you should stay home and rest.
"You shouldn't go to work; you shouldn't transmit infection to co-workers. It's what we call social-distancing. You should telecommute, and we need the employers to be sympathetic to the fact that they've got employees who have influenza and can make others in their workforce ill," Whitley says.