What is the Flu?
The flu is an infection caused by the influenza virus that is most often seen from winter to early spring. It primarily attacks the respiratory system, affecting the nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. According to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 5-20% of the general population contracts influenza each year. Of that number, around 200,000 are hospitalized and 36,000 die from flu-related complications. Those most at risk are the very young and the very old, those with chronic conditions and people with compromised immune systems.
Influenza is very contagious, which is why so many cases are reported during a single season. The best line of defense against the flu is to get a vaccination every fall before flu season begins. The vaccination formula changes from year to year, since there are many different types of influenza viruses.
What are the Most Common Flu Symptoms?
While some flu symptoms mimic those of a cold, there are also distinct differences between the two. Common flu symptoms include:
- A high fever (over 101°
in adults and as high as 105°in children)
- Alternating between chills and sweats
- Extreme fatigue and weakness
- Sore throat and dry cough
- Possible stuffy nose (more common with a cold)
- Severe muscle achesLoss of appetite
- Occasional digestive symptoms like diarrhea (more common in children)
Flu symptoms tend to come on rather quickly while a cold usually appears more gradually. A cold is generally not accompanied by a high fever and body aches are relatively mild. Congestion is often more pronounced with a cold virus as well. It should also be noted that stomach upset is not always a symptom of the flu. Vomiting and diarrhea can usually be attributed to a different type of virus.
How Long does the Flu Last?
The typical influenza virus usually hangs around about 10 days, as long as no complications arise. However, 10 days is a long time to feel miserable. The good news is that patients can head to the doctor within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms for medication that can greatly reduce the length and severity of the virus. Doctors can run tests to confirm that the virus is indeed influenza and prescribe a drug known as Tamiflu.
What are the Complications of Influenza?
Many people will suffer through a bout of the flu without any long lasting effects. However, those at risk can experience complications from influenza that can be dangerous or even deadly. People most at risk for complications include:
· Young children and infants
· Anyone over the age of 50
· Those with a compromised immune system from medications or a condition like HIV
· People with chronic conditions like diabetes or kidney disease
· Women who will be pregnant during the flu season
Complications may include ear infections, sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. For some, these complications can put them in the hospital and even become life threatening. For this reason, doctors recommend that those in the high risk category get a flu vaccination each year to prevent the virus completely or at least reduce its length and severity. The vaccination is considered safe for most people over the age of six months. For those who cannot have an injection due to an allergic reaction or other reason, a nasal mist can also be used.
What is the Swine Flu?
The swine flu, now known as novel H1N1 influenza, is a new strain of virus that appeared in Mexico earlier this year. However, some medical professionals believe the early cases of this virus might have presented nearly a year ago. Swine flu symptoms are similar to those of the seasonal flu and include:
· Fever, which is sometimes quite high
· Sore throat and dry cough
· Nasal congestion
· Body aches, which can be severe
· Extreme fatigue
The swine flu was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, due to its spread to numerous countries. Thus far, the virus has been relatively mild, with a low percentage of deaths reported. Current cases have also responded well to treatment with Tamiflu, although medical professionals are reserving this medication for those at higher risk for complications. However, health officials are concerned that the strain could mutate, causing a more serious outbreak this fall. Production is currently underway for a swine flu vaccination, which could be available in just a few short months. Those considered high risk will be the first to receive the vaccination.
What are the Most Effective Flu Treatments?
There is no medication to "cure" influenza at this time. When influenza is diagnosed within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, patients can treat the virus with Tamiflu or Relenza. These flu medicines work effectively to reduce the severity and duration of the illness. However, Relenza should not be used by anyone with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma.
Beyond these flu medicines, the most effective flu treatments are primarily home remedies. Plenty of rest and fluids are usually prescribed to help the virus run its course as painlessly and quickly as possible. Chicken soup has also been shown to relieve congestion and can be quite soothing for a sore throat. For fever and body aches, an over the counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also be used. It is important to stay home while you have the flu to prevent the spread of the illness. If you experience
The best flu treatment is prevention through an annual flu vaccination. While the shot will not keep the flu from occurring all the time, those who have been vaccinated generally have a much shorter and milder case. This is especially true for those who fall into the high risk category. If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find a good match between the vaccination and the current strain, the immunization can be 70-90% effective.
Is there a Way to Avoid getting the Flu?
There are other ways to reduce your risk of contracting influenza beyond the annual vaccination. First, wash your hands frequently during flu season. Health experts recommend scrubbing with soap for at least 15 seconds to ensure all germs are removed. When you are unable to wash your hands, a hand sanitizer is the next best thing. It is also important to get sufficient rest and adhere to a healthy diet during flu season to keep your immune system functioning at peak capacity. You can also avoid the spread of germs by avoiding crowds as much as possible during the peak season for the virus.
Influenza is a miserable virus, but it is usually not serious for people who do not fall into the high risk category. You can call your doctor at the first onset of flu symptoms to find out about flu medicines that can shorten the duration and severity of your illness. In the meantime, scheduling an annual flu vaccination is the best way to keep influenza at bay and prevent the spread of the illness. Once the flu hits, the best remedy is to stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids and simply wait for the virus to run its course.