Raise Your Flu IQ
Your Flu Questions Answered
Dec. 5, 2003 -- How much do you really know about the flu?
This year, lots of fallacies are getting mixed with the facts. To help clear things up, WebMD spoke with Dennis Clements, MD, PhD, professor of infectious diseases and pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center. Clements also serves as medical director of PDC Primary Care.
Question: Should you stop nursing if you get the flu?
Dr. Clements: If a mother has the flu, she is very likely to give it to her child. The child won't get any sicker from nursing. And nursing may help the child cut down on secondary bacterial infections. By the time you realize you have the flu, you have been viremic for a couple of days and have already transmitted it to the child. Obviously the youngest kids can get very sick, but you can't tell in advance which five out of 100 kids will get severe flu.
Question: How is the flu usually transmitted? What about handshaking? And if you do shake hands, should you immediately wash your hands?
Dr. Clements: Usually flu is spread by oral secretions -- most often by breathing in droplets expelled into the air by an infected person's cough. These droplets can land in your eye or nose; or they get on your face and you touch your face and then touch your mouth or rub your eyes or scratch your nose. If you shake hands with a person who is coughing or sneezing, it would be a good idea to wash your hands.
You can also get the flu from sharing cups, glasses, or other household objects used by a person who has the flu.
Question: What is the incubation period for the flu?
Dr. Clements: When you get infected with the flu virus, it multiplies quietly in body until you get symptoms of the disease and start excreting enough virus to give to someone else. That's the incubation period. For the flu, it is about two to five days. So if you are exposed today, you probably won't have any symptoms for three to five days. Then you have a little headache, maybe a few aches and pains and maybe a low fever. Then, the next day, you have a high fever and a runny nose.
Question: How long are you contagious?
Dr. Clements: Most adults are contagious for about five to seven days. With young children, it's longer. The youngest kids (1 to 2 year olds) can be contagious for 10-14 days. And they can also have diarrheal illness when they get the flu. They get more symptoms that we adults typically have.
Note: According to the CDC, people with lowered immune systems -- such as people with AIDS or people taking drugs to prevent transplant rejection -- can shed flu virus for weeks or months after infection.