How to Avoid Flu Like the Plague

August 29, 2013, Atlanta, GA - Chris Summerrow (left), Director of Business and Continuity Management, UPS, speaks with Dr. Ali Khan, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, in the Emergency Operations Center at the CDC.

By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (with a little help from Victoria Mullen)


Hey! Happy New Year, Grand Rapids! We start out the year by making it onto yet another top-20 list, but this one’s nothing to brag about. According to the Huffington Post, Grand Rapids ranked 19th among the 20 cities most likely to experience the worst cold and flu season in 2016.


Great job, guys. Way to go. (Well, at least we weren’t #1 but still, among millions of cities, coming in at 19th?)


Both dreaded and dreadful, flu season can begin as early as October, but most of the time it peaks between December and February. Sometimes it can last as late as May. That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say, and they’re the experts.

flu don't touch your face
Wash your hands!


Suffice it to say that the exact timing and duration of each flu season varies. About half of the U.S. population gets a flu shot each year, but those nasty little viruses can still pack a punch. Flu is responsible for nearly 17 million lost workdays and costs the U.S. more than $87 billion annually. Tens of thousands of people get sick enough to be hospitalized, and thousands die from flu-related illnesses each year in the U.S.


Children are the most likely to become infected with flu, and children younger than five years of age are among those who are at high risk of serious flu complications.


Think about that the next time you go to hug your sweet little petri dish.

How to spread the flu

It’s easy! Just cough, sneeze or merely talk, and those nasty viruses will spread through itty-bitty, teeny-tiny little droplets. Flu also spreads when people touch something with the virus on it and then touch their nose, mouth or eyes.


Here’s the thing: if you’re infected with flu, you can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. That’s right, you can spread the flu to someone else before you even know you’re sick (in addition to doing so while you are sick).


Young children, people who are very ill and those with severely compromised immune systems can infect others for longer than 5-7 days.

We needn’t go this far… unless there’s a pandemic.
Symptoms of the flu

How do you know you have the flu? Uh, you’ll feel lousy. Specifically, you may have:


– Fever or feeling feverish (note that not everyone with flu will have a fever)

– Chills

– Cough

– Sore throat

– Runny or stuffy nose

– Muscle or body aches

– Headache

– Fatigue

– Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than in adults


Most people will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some may develop complications (such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and even deadly.


The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

Emergency_roomWhen to go to the emergency room:

In children

– Fast breathing or trouble breathing

– Bluish skin color

– Not drinking enough fluids

– 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

– Fever with a rash


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 that improve but then return with fever and worse cough


In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

– Being unable to eat

– Has trouble breathing

– Has no tears when crying

– Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Isn’t it pretty? Looks like an art project, but it’s not.
The best way to prevent flu

Get your annual flu shot every fall, say the CDC. Their statistics show that during the 2012-2013 flu season, an estimated 45 percent of the U.S. population got vaccinated and helped to prevent an estimated 6.6 million flu-related illnesses, 3.2 million flu-related mediation visits and 79,000 hospitalizations. (How they came up with these numbers is a mystery, but there you have it.)


People at high risk (such as children younger than 2 years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, people who have medical conditions) or are very sick (such as those hospitalized because of flu) should get antiviral drugs


The flu vaccine protects against several different flu viruses, providing protection all season long. Flu viruses can change from season to season and immunity declines over time so it is important to get vaccinated each year.


CDC plays a major role in deciding which flu viruses the annual flu vaccine will protect against, so be nice to them.

cover your coughHow to protect yourself from the flu:
  • Stay away from sick people (not a problem for introverts) and don’t be offended when they stay away from you when you’re sick (tit for tat)
  • Wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs
  • If you or your kid is sick with flu, stay home from work or school at least 24 hours after the fever is gone to prevent spreading flu to others (one exception: you may go out to get medical care or for necessities but keep your distance from others). No cheating: The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth (germs love to spread this way)
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs (such as doorknobs, phones, and computer keyboards/iPads, you get the idea)
  • If you begin to feel sick while at work, go home as soon as possible
  • Follow public health advice, which may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures. (I would think that if we ever reach this point, it wouldn’t hurt to wear a necklace of garlic.)
swine-kissFun Fact:

The title of ‘peak month of flu activity’ is bestowed upon the month with the highest percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza virus infection. February is typically the top peak month, so happy birthday out there to all you Aquarians!


For more information, visit, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.