The confetti has been cleaned up and the noise-makers are put away for another year. But, with the New Year comes a new bout of aches, fever and coughs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that flu cases have reached epidemic levels in the U.S. As of January 5, 2015, 43 states are now reporting widespread influenza-like illness, with outbreaks in every region of the country. This year’s flu is sending more people to hospitals than last season, with the H3N2 virus the most prevalent strain. Unfortunately, this year’s vaccination is less effective against H3N2, which has mutated. So what can you do to lessen your chances of getting the flu?

The best ways to prevent the flu are to:

  • Get a flu vaccination
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid others who are sick, and stay home if you are feeling unwell
  • Get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated with water, teas and other non-caffeinated drinks

If you think you have the flu, ask your physician about antiviral drugs that can shorten the effects if prescribed within the first 48 hours of the first symptoms.

Public health experts say that sometimes it’s hard to tell if you have a cold or the flu, but here are some things to know: while both colds and the flu are upper respiratory illnesses, a cold is milder and will ease in a few days; flu symptoms are much more severe, will last up to 10 days, and can result in serious health problems like pneumonia and hospitalization. Here are other ways you can differentiate between the two:

COLDS

  • Symptoms usually last a few days to a week
  • Normally begin with a sore throat that diminishes in a day or two
  • Fever is very uncommon with colds (except for younger children)
  • A cough usually develops by the fourth or fifth days

FLU

  • Symptoms come on strongly and swiftly (3 to 6 hours) and will persist for five days or longer
  • Will include a sore throat
  • Often there is a high fever accompanied by chills
  • Extreme, sudden tiredness and exhaustion are common
  • There are severe muscle aches and soreness
  • Congestion and coughs are common
  • Swine flu also is associated with vomiting

If you are still not sure, consult the flu symptoms checker at flufacts.com.

It’s very important to take precautions when treating someone with the flu:

  • Isolate the sick person from others
  • Wash hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based gel
  • Don’t get face-to-face with the ill person
  • Hold small children so their chin is on your shoulder to avoid coughs to the face
  • Toss tissues in the trash daily
  • Disinfect surfaces often
  • Thoroughly wash linens, towels and other objects used by the sick person before reusing

flu

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