If all the buzz around the majorly nasty flu virus going around this season has you worried, you鈥檙e not alone 鈥 and it鈥檚 certainly nothing to take lightly. According to the CDC, more than 20,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu since October, and, even scarier, up to 4,000 people are dying from complications each week. We talked to several doctors to find out more about the risks and what you can do to stay healthy.

Common Flu-Related Complications

Mercy Medical Center鈥檚 Dr. Susan Besser shares that it鈥檚 common for people to experience fatigue, high fever, body aches, coughing, head congestion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with the flu virus. 鈥淐omplications from the flu can include dehydration, if associated with vomiting and diarrhea鈥 also, in rare cases, generalized sepsis from the virus can lead to organ failure,鈥 she explains.

Some of the most common flu complications are respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis. In rare cases, this can kill you. Although they鈥檙e more common in people who are high-risk (think pregnant women, young children, or people over the age of 65), this year we鈥檙e seeing more young and healthy adults suffer from these types of ailments.

Another potential complication you may not be aware of: The flu can cause hives. Dr. Tania Elliott, chief medical officer at EHE, points out that hives are usually triggered by food, medication, or infection, but 鈥渢he virus itself can trigger the allergy cells to become activated and release histamine, which is the main chemical responsible for causing hives,鈥 she says. Why worry about hives? The itchiness they cause can lead to scratching, which may expose your skin to infection.

鈥淣ationally, this has been a bad year for serious adverse outcomes, including hospitalization, organ failure, and even death,鈥 shares Geisinger鈥檚 Dr. Thomas Morland. 鈥淚n addition to the usual affected groups such as the very young, the very old, and the frail or immunosuppressed, this year we鈥檙e seeing more people in general with scary or even life-threatening cases of the flu. Given that my practice is mostly older adults, I feel fortunate that the worst I鈥檝e seen so far has been patients who were hospitalized but ultimately made full recoveries.鈥

Tips for Preventing and Dealing With the Flu

Every doctor we talked to mentioned that the best prevention is washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with others who have the flu. Some also pointed out that the current vaccine may offer about 20 percent protection this year. But if it鈥檚 too late, and you already have the flu, there are things you can do.

鈥淲hen you鈥檙e sick, stay home! If you sneeze or cough, do it into the crease of your elbow and not your hand. Keep a trash can next to your bed for your dirty tissues and avoid placing them on the nightstand where germs will accumulate,鈥 Dr. Elliott recommends.

Dr. Besser reminds patients to maintain a healthy immune system while they鈥檙e sick; good nutrition, proper sleep, and elimination of stress are all important ways to boost your body鈥檚 ability to fight the virus. And your mother was right about chicken soup: Dr. Elliott agrees this home remedy can boost the immune system and stimulate neutrophils, which are cells that fight infection.

鈥淓chinacea and zinc have also demonstrated some benefit in decreasing the duration of cold and flu symptoms鈥and] fresh ginger is my go-to, either ingested or inhaled. It has immune-boosting properties and can decrease inflammation in the sinuses and nasal passages. Try adding fresh ginger to a pot of boiling water to make yourself a humidifying, anti-inflammatory treatment,鈥 Dr. Elliott shares.

Tell us how you鈥檙e avoiding or handling the flu on Twitter @BritandCo.

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