The cold and flu season is the name for the months when rates of influenza (flu) and other viruses that cause cold symptoms are at the highest. This generally happens from winter to early spring, although there have been outbreaks of colds and the flu at all times of the year.
The flu virus circulates every year, but it mutates and is slightly different each time it resurfaces. Most people know that if you’ve had a virus once, you cannot get the same one again. Unfortunately with the flu, its ability to create a new strain each year means that you can potentially get sick multiple times. From year to year it does not undergo any major mutations, so if you had the flu once, the antibodies in your body may be able to protect you for a few years. However, after about ten years, the flu virus will have changed so much that your body will not able to recognize it anymore, and you might get the flu again.
Experts estimate that about 60 million people in the United States and surrounding countries will contract the flu virus each year. Kids and young teenagers are the group that is most likely to get sick with the flu, but seniors and very young children are at the greatest risk for serious complications as a result of the flu. The flu is a respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs, but it is very different from the common cold. Symptoms often last much longer, and unlike most colds, the flu can lead to hospitalization, and in some cases, death.
Symptoms of the flu virus often come on suddenly. Someone may have the virus in their body for several days before they begin showing signs of illness, but once they do, it is easy to recognize. Common flu symptoms include high fever with chills, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, extreme exhaustion, and occasionally nausea and vomiting. Once someone does have the flu, there is not much to do to get rid of the symptoms. A doctor may be able to prescribe an antiviral medication, but antibiotics will not help. The best home remedies are plenty of sleep, water and sports drinks, and over-the-counter pain medicine.
Influenza can make you feel terrible, but there are precautions to take to avoid getting sick during the cold and flu season. First of all, get vaccinated. You are much less likely to get the virus if you get your flu shot before being exposed to anyone with the flu. If you do get the vaccination but come down with the flu several days after, this does not mean you got the virus from the vaccine. It only means that you already contracted the virus, and your body did not have enough time to fight it off. If friends or family members are sick, try to stay away as much as possible. Clean surfaces they may have come in contact with and avoid touching the sick person if you can. Hand washing is another great option. Always scrub your hands after dealing with a sick person, before eating, and after being out in public spaces.