On a bone-chilling, wintery Friday evening you have a horrible sore throat. It has turned your commute home from a mindless routine into a trek that feels like it might never end. You took ibuprofen around lunch, but it’s starting to wear off and every swallow feels like tiny razorblades slicing their way through your throat. You start feeling clammy under your winter jacket and work clothes. Your eyelids feel hot and heavy. The front door of your home is in view but passing that threshold feels harder than summiting Mt. Everest.
Finally, you get inside, put on comfy clothes and settle in on the couch. You spend the next few days feeling like you’ll never leave the couch again. Your nose is clogged, your throat feels raw and your body temperature fluctuates faster than you can cover up or kick off your blankets. You haven’t moved from that spot in days, as you lay in an ever-growing pile of tissues.
As the weekend turns into the work week you make your way to the doctor’s office. The waiting room is packed with people spewing germs, just like you. The doctor takes a swab and sticks it up your nose. After 15 minutes the test confirms what you already knew. It’s the flu. As you miserably make your way back home, death feels closer than returning to work.
But, as the days blend into a haze of sleep, soup and tissues, you start to feel better. You return to work and within a few days you barely remember the nasty bout of illness. However, not everyone that falls ill with the flu is lucky enough get better. The flu, even in this era, can be fatal.
Same Symptoms, New Strains
Every fall, Americans begin to prepare for the upcoming flu season. People stock classrooms and offices with hand sanitizer, add vitamin C supplements to their diet and hope they do not fall ill. Despite best efforts, the flu predictably comes around every October and lingers until May. However, the severity and strain of flu is unpredictable. Some seasons, like the 2010-2011 season, are mild and see under 10 million infections when others, like the 2017-2018 season, 49 million fall ill.
The CDC uses mathematical modeling to get these estimates. These estimates include deaths linked to influenza from the virus, complications and secondary infections.
The flu is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. It commonly results in fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. These symptoms usually last a week or two. However, people can be contagious up to 24 hours before they start showing symptoms and can still pass it to others for up to a week. It is spread through respiratory droplets. These are released into the air or left of surfaces each time someone infected coughs, sneezes, talks or breathes.
Patients with flu-like symptoms typically have their nose or throat swabbed. These tests look for the flu virus and what type it is. Flu infections can be difficult to detect because someone can have the flu with no symptoms, but these carriers are still contagious and can get other people sick.
The flu is a virus, so it cannot be treated with antibiotics, which means prevention is the best way to reduce flu frequency and severity, according to the CDC. Vaccines are the best prevention, according to the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams MD, MPH.