The flu is caused by the influenza virus and can be confused with a cold or a respiratory infection. The flu is different from a cold in that the symptoms begin very suddenly. The most common signs and symptoms of the flu include more shortness of breath than usual, fever, extreme exhaustion, muscle aches (called myalgias) which can last 2-3 weeks, stomach upset, severe coughing without raising sputum and headache. The flu is easily transmitted between people. Like a cold, the flu can be transmitted in the air, or by touching something or someone contaminated with the virus. For example, the flu can be transmitted by inhaling the air near a person with the flu who coughs or sneezes. The flu can also be transmitted by shaking hands with someone with the flu and then touching your nose or eyes. Besides avoiding people with the flu, a person with COPD should be careful to wash their hands after having contact with people with the flu or people suspected of having the flu.
How do I prevent the flu?
Since avoiding people is not very practical, getting a flu shot can reduce your chances of getting the flu. The flu shot must be "renewed" every year because the type of virus causing the flu changes from year to year. The flu shot protects you from the types of viruses that are likely to cause the flu for that year. The shot is no guarantee that you will not get the flu, but it does reduce your chances of getting it.
Can I get the flu from the flu shot?
No, you cannot "get" the flu from the shot. While in the past the flu shot contained the "live" or active form of the virus, this no longer occurs. The way the flu vaccine is now processed does not give people the flu. Sometimes, however, people who were already exposed to the flu get the flu after a shot, but this is a coincidence. It takes 1-2 weeks after you get the shot for the vaccine to give you protection. Soreness where the needle entered the skin or mild aches can occur for 1-2 days after the shot. The flu shot is no guarantee you will not get the flu, but if you get the flu, the seriousness of the flu is often less.
Is the flu dangerous?
The flu can be dangerous for those who are weak or those who get serious respiratory infections easily. People with very severe COPD should be careful not to expose themselves to the flu and should seek immediate medical attention if they have the flu.
What can I do to treat the flu?
You should discuss the treatment of flu with your healthcare provider. Some may want to see you at the first sign of the flu and prescribe medication. If your healthcare provider feels you can handle the flu, you should treat the symptoms by drinking eight glasses of liquids a day, taking acetaminophen/paracetamol for fever, headache and/or muscle aches, resting for exhaustion, and using your inhalers for chest discomfort/tightness.
When should I call my healthcare provider about the flu?
Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen despite treatment or if you cough up sputum that is deep yellow/green in color.