Your body aches all over — not just a little, but an every single muscle in your body kind of ache. Your head is pounding and stuffy. You are flushed with fever that is making you bone tired, but you’re also shivering with the chills. Your throat hurts, chest hurts, stomach hurts, and you’re sleeping with a big bowl next to the bed, just in case.

Welcome to the flu.

Unfortunately, thousands in Connecticut alone, and more across the country, are welcoming this unwanted and unpleasant virus into their homes this year.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting that influenza is “widespread;” outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms are above normal; and the number of deaths nationwide attributed to pneumonia and influenza is now above what the CDC considers the “epidemic threshold.”

The CDC reports that since the end of September and the week of Jan. 11, there have been 20 pediatric deaths from the flu, including 10 in the week of Jan. 5-11; one of those was in Region 1, which includes Connecticut.

“We are still early in the season but what has been disturbing to people is the report of deaths,” Patrice Sulik of the Trumbull Monroe Health District said.

Prevention

The best way to prevent getting the flu is to get vaccinated.

This year’s vaccine does contain the H1N1 strain of the virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009, which is good, because that’s the strain health officials are seeing most often this year.

If you haven’t already been vaccinated, it can still be effective to do so. The Trumbull Monroe Health District still has vaccine available.

“We have administered well over 1,200 flu vaccines,” Sulik said. “We’re getting a lot of calls.”

Some doctor’s offices that have run out of their supply of vaccine have been referring patients to the the health district.

“Every time we vaccinate some one we are helping to keep the flu out of our community,” Sulik said.

The health district just asks that any one who wants a vaccine calls, 203-452-5195, to make an appointment. In most cases the district can get patients in the same-day or the following day to get their vaccine.

Another important tip to avoiding the flu is regular hand-washing.

What is the flu

The flu is the shortened name for the contagious influenza viruses that cause respiratory illnesses by infecting the nose, throat, and lungs. The virus is spread mainly by droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze, or even talk. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby, or on surfaces that are later touched by someone who in turn touches their own face.

“You’d be surprised how often we touch our faces. It’s hundreds of times a day,” Ms. Wheeler said. “It’s so important to try not to.”

It’s also best to cough or sneeze into a tissue or into one’s elbow (not one’s hands), and to teach children to do the same.

And, she said, it’s important to try to avoid unnecessary contact with others at this time of year. According to the CDC, its possible to infect others one day before symptoms develop, and up to seven days after becoming sick.

“It’s not that you need to be anti-social, but try to keep a distance from others,” Ms. Wheeler said.

And if you do get sick, the best thing to do for yourself and others is to stay home. It helps avoid spreading the disease, and taking care of oneself by resting and drinking plenty of fluids lessens recovery time.

Signs of the flu

It’s sometimes hard to tell a bad cold or intestinal distress from the flu, but it is possible for doctors to do a rapid test for it. It’s a good idea to get tested if you start to feel run down, because taking an anti-viral medication as soon as possible can help lessen the symptoms and decrease recovery time.

Common signs of the flu include:

• Feeling feverish (not every case of the flu comes with a high fever)

• Severe muscle or body aches

• Headache

• Extreme fatigue

• Sore throat

• Cough

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Vomiting and/or diarrhea (more common for children)

For generally healthy people, symptoms may last anywhere from a few days to a week.

For some, however, including older people, children, pregnant women, and those with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or those with compromised immune systems), the flu can lead to complications that can be quite dangerous.

Complications from the flu include bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions.

Danger signs

Get medical help immediately if you or someone you are caring for experiences the following emergency warning signs:

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

• Sudden dizziness

• Confusion

• Severe or persistent vomiting

• Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

For children, keep an eye out for:

• Fast breathing or trouble breathing

• Bluish skin color

• Not drinking enough fluids

• Not waking up or not interacting

• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

• Fever with a rash

For infants:

• Being unable to eat

• Has trouble breathing

• Has no tears when crying

• Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal