What is influenza?
Influenza is a serious virus disease affecting the ears, nose, throat, sinuses, bronchial tubes and lung tissue. Several different influenza viruses have been identified from studies made during epidemics. The symptoms of each of the types of influenza are similar. The disease may range from mild to severe, depending upon the age and general previous health of the patient who becomes infected.
Influenza Symptoms and Prevention
Influenza, or the flu, kills about 36,000 people in the US each year. Infections with the virus that causes influenza can result in miserable symptoms, such as muscle aches, fever, sore throat, cough, fatigue, runny nose and nausea.
Influenza is a serious virus disease affecting the ears, nose, throat, sinuses, bronchial tubes, and lung tissue. Several different influenza viruses have been identified from studies made during epidemics. Some experts say getting a flu shot is still the best way to avoid getting the illness, but other options, including flu vaccine nasal spray, antiviral drugs and general good health are also available.
Who can receive the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccines contain the virus strains that scientists predict will be most widespread during the upcoming flu season. The viruses have been killed, so they cannot cause infection. The vaccine is injected into the upper arm. It takes about 2 weeks after the vaccination to be protected, so the best time to get the shot is between October 15 and November 15.
People who are at high risk for complications of the flu include:
- Children aged 6 months to 23 months
- Parents or caretakers of babies younger than 6 months
- Children aged 2 years or older who have a chronic illness, such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, a blood disorder, or a weakened immune system
- Adults aged 65 years or older
- People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- Women who plan to become pregnant in the months of the flu season
- People aged 6 months to 18 years who take aspirin every day
- Health care workers
If there is enough flu vaccine for everyone this flu season, the following groups are also recommended to consider receiving a shot:
- Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of people in a high-risk group
- Adults aged 50 to 64 years
People who should not get a flu shot include babies younger than 6 months and people who are allergic to chicken eggs, have a fever, or previously had Guillain -- Barre syndrome within 6 weeks of vaccination.
Most people don't experience side effects from the shot, but some report soreness in the arm, redness, swelling, an achy feeling and fever.
Am I a candidate for the nasal flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is available as a nasal spray, although there are differing opinions about whether it's as effective as the flu shot. About 3 million doses are expected to be available this flu season. Healthy people aged 5 to 49 years can spray the vaccine in their nose instead of getting a shot. Side effects of the spray in children may include a runny nose, muscle aches, fever, headache and vomiting. Adults may experience a runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. Pregnant women and people who live with or take care of someone with a weakened immune system should not use the nasal vaccine.
What else can I do to prevent the flu?
Good hygiene, plenty of rest and exercise can help keep the flu at bay. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, stay home if you get the flu, and wash your hands often with soap and water. Sugar has been known to decrease the function of your immune system, so limiting or eliminating the amount of sugar in your diet can improve your body's ability to fight disease. Garlic is also antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal. Ingest plenty, so long as the odor is not too overpowering.
Treatment of Influenza
Influenza has no specific treatment. That is, no antibiotic or other medication will kill the virus which causes the disease. The treatment, then, is symptomatic. We prescribe medicines to help make you more comfortable and to prevent complications. If bacterial complications do occur, antibiotics will be prescribed. In some special age groups and in some people with special pre-existing conditions, antibiotics are started as soon as the diagnosis of influenza has been established.
The tests which will positively identify the type of influenza virus causing your illness require several weeks to complete. Therefore, your diagnosis will be based on your symptoms and history, and treatment will start without awaiting results of tests.
Stay in bed until your temperature has returned to normal or near normal. Stay away from healthy people in your family, residence hall or classroom as much as possible. Check your temperature about every 4 hours and keep a record of it.
Try to eat balanced meals. Drink at least ten glasses of liquids a day excluding milk. (This will help keep secretions in the lungs thin.) Avoid alcohol and smoking.
Your medicines must fit to your own needs. If prescribed, carefully follow the instructions on the label.
- Do not use aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is useful for pain and fever.
- Take a cough preparation, following the directions on the label. This will not stop your coughing, but it should help keep secretions loose and make the cough less uncomfortable. Use a cool-mist vaporizer.
- Wash hands frequently to avoid spreading the infection to others.
Notify your health care provider if any of the following happens:
- Temperature reaches over 103 degrees
- Severe headache and/or neck stiffness
- Shortness of breath, chest pain or blood tinged sputum