20 Things the Flu Virus Doesn’t Want You to Know
Want to know how to avoid the flu? Here’s what the virus would tell you if it could: whom it loves to infect, the surprising places it lurks in your home, and how it makes you feel so crummy.
Think I’m just a cold? Ha!
Underestimate me at your peril. Each year on average, I send 200,000 people to the hospital and have a hand in killing at least 23,000 (usually if they also develop complications such as pneumonia). Not to brag, but I am strong enough to render even a totally normal, healthy person gravely ill.
I dread nothing more than the flu vaccine
It’s the best way to ensure that I can’t wreak havoc. A vaccine provides your immune system with National Security Agency–level intelligence to identify and eradicate me. This season, I’m especially nervous—there’s a new quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four flu strains instead of the usual three. There’s a new vaccine for people who are allergic to eggs and, once again, an extra-strength version for senior citizens. Yikes. Just be sure you’re not making these 8 mistakes that could mess up your flu shot.
I’m terrified of products labeled “disinfectant”
This means they’ve been tested for their ability to kill viruses (like me). Cleaning products labeled “sanitizer” have to kill only bacteria. Disinfectants can take a few minutes to kick in, so if you spray one on a surface and immediately wipe it off, chances are some of my viruses will survive.
Merely breathing spreads me
You don’t have to sneeze or cough. A single breath can harbor thousands of my viruses—and we can infect other people a full 24 hours before you exhibit symptoms. Check out these 6 clear symptoms of the flu that you shouldn’t ignore.
If you’re obese, I can do a real number on you
I’m up to three times more likely to kill someone who is obese than I am someone of normal weight. If extra pounds are squeezing your lungs, it’s harder to breathe and fight me off. Extra weight may make the flu shot less effective, too.
You do me a big favor when you’re “too busy” to take a sick day
When you drag yourself into the office, you spread me to your coworkers (awesome) and may make it harder for your body to fight me, so you stay sick longer (more awesome). If everyone had access to just one paid sick day for the flu, it could reduce cases by as much as 25 percent. (Shudder!) Don’t miss these other ways you’re making your cold or flu worse.
A good hair day for you is a good day for me, too
When there’s less moisture in the air, I can waft around a little longer, which gives me a better chance of infecting people.
Thanks for skimping on handwashing
Next to the flu vaccine, good hand hygiene is one of your best defenses against me. I recently heard that about 10 percent of people don’t wash their hands before leaving the restroom, and more than 20 percent use water but no soap. Either way, it’s all good. If my viruses linger on your hands and then you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth (trust me, you do this a lot), we get easy access. Be sure you have these 12 things in your DIY flu-fighting kit, too.
Is that Tamiflu you’re taking?!
Antiviral drugs are my biggest enemy once I’ve succeeded in infecting you. The drugs thwart my ability to keep reproducing, which means they can shorten the length of your illness. Lucky for me, though, there’s only a brief ideal window in which to use these medications. They are most effective if you take them within the first 48 hours of having flu symptoms. If you wait too long, I can still run rampant.
I love children
They are my biggest spreaders. Kids’ immature immune systems take more time to fight me, so they shed more flu viruses and for longer periods. Children are also delightfully unhygienic. If I infect one child, I likely gain entry to that child’s immediate family and many of his or her classmates. Don’t look now, but these 21 natural remedies for colds and the flu really work.
I can live out in the open for hours
Most of you probably don’t know that I can live for up to an entire day—24 hours—on hard surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, and elevator buttons, just waiting for you to come along.
I love it when you sneeze into your hands
You may think this is a great way to save the folks around you from infection, but the truth is, unless you wash your hands immediately, you’ll transfer a bunch of my viruses to the very next thing you touch. That’s why the CDC recommends that you cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your arm instead. Definitely don’t bother checking out 14 other things not to do when you’re sick with the flu.
I’m extremely contagious
Ever wonder how and why I’ve caused so many epidemics over the centuries? Because I’m very, very, very contagious. Not only can people spread flu viruses around a full day before they start feeling sick, but the infected stay contagious for five to seven days afterward. Now, that’s stamina.
Antibiotics won’t do a thing to me
I know it’s tempting to ask your doctor for antibiotics when you feel terrible, but they only work on bacteria, not viruses like me. So for my sake, go ahead and ignore these 11 ways to treat the flu.
I can trigger heart attacks
When I infect you, I don’t just irritate your chest and sinuses—there’s also widespread inflammation all over your body. And that inflammation can increase the risk of developing blood clots in the heart.
You should get vaccinated in September or October for best protection from me
But it’ll help protect you from me even if you get the shot much later than that. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, so if you’re trying to avoid getting sick, doctors say it’s ideal to get jabbed early on in flu season—it runs from October to May. But I’d prefer it if you didn’t learn these 10 secrets doctors use to avoid getting sick.
I change every year
Flu viruses come in all different strains—with names like H1N1, H3N2, and B/Colorado. And every year there’s a different group of us making the rounds. That’s why a new vaccine has to be made every year, to target us newbies.
I can cause some pretty bad complications
After causing all the usual symptoms (fever, headache, cough, body aches), I can also lead to pneumonia, sinus infections, and ear infections. Some people are more vulnerable to my dastardly deeds than others, including seniors, pregnant women, kids under five years of age, and people with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes. Learn the difference between cold and flu.
I can fly!
Well, not exactly. I get around in tiny droplets of moisture that get out into the air when you breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze. Here’s the craziest part: These droplets can travel six to eight feet.
I was one of the original “influencers”
You’ve heard about all those social media influencers on Instagram? Well, my full name—influenza—comes from the Italian word for “influence.” After four major worldwide pandemics, I’ve earned it. Each year, an average of 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu virus. Now check out 15 surprising ways to prevent colds and flu.