The flu is an upper respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus.
Each winter, influenza spreads around the world. The strains are usually different from one year to the next. That's one of the reasons that you need to be reimmunized for influenza every year.
The two main kinds of influenza viruses are called Type A and Type B.
You can get the flu if you breathe in infected droplets from someone who is carrying the virus. Or if you touch a contaminated surface, you may transfer the virus from your hand to your mouth or nose
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
- Living or working in crowded group conditions, such as:
- Nursing home
- Military forces
- Daycare center
All the remaining factors don’t increase the risk of getting flu but do increase the risk of developing complications from flu:
- Age: Newborn babies and the elderly
- Women in the third trimester of pregnancy
- Weakened immune systems, such as in:
- Cancer patients
- AIDS patients
- People taking immunosuppressive drugs
- Chronic lung, heart, kidney, or blood conditions
Influenza symptoms usually start abruptly. They may include:
- Fever and chills
- Severe muscle aches
- Severe fatigue
- Decreased appetite, other gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting
- Runny nose, nasal congestion
- Water eyes, conjunctivitis
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Diagnosis of the flu is usually based on symptoms, and by knowing that influenza is already striking other people in a given community. Samples of nasal secretions or a throat swab can be sent to a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests can be performed, but they take longer and are more expensive.
Treatment may include:
Anti-viral medicines include: zanamivir and oseltamivir. While amantadine and rimantidine have been useful in the past for influenza type A, they have not been recommended for the 2005-6 flu season because of resistance.
These do not cure the flu, but may help relieve symptoms and decrease the duration of the illness. These medications must be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms.
It is important to get plenty of rest when your body is fighting the flu.
Drink a lot of liquids, such as water, juice, and noncaffeinated tea.
Over-the-counter Pain Relievers
These medications are used to control fever and treat aches and pains. Adults can use acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and/or aspirin.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving a child or teen aspirin.
Decongestants are available as pills or nasal sprays. If you use a nasal spray, don't use it longer than 3-5 days, or you may experience an increase in congestion called "rebound" when you stop using the spray.
- Over-the-counter cough medicines (including suppressants and expectorants)
- Prescription cough medicines
- Cough drops
Good preventive measures include:
- Thorough handwashing, including use of alcohol-based gels
- Avoid touching eyes or nose prior to washing hands.
- Avoid biting fingernails
- Avoid sharing personal items during the flu season
- Consider the flu vaccine
- Two forms of flu vaccine are available, injectable and nasal spray (FluMist), discuss with your doctor which form is best for you
- Indications for flu vaccine (discuss these with your doctor):
- Persons older than 65 years of age
- Residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- People with chronic heart and lung conditions
- People with chronic metabolic disease, kidney problems, hemoglobin abnormalities, or immune system problems
- Children and teenagers routinely taking aspirin
- Pregnant women in the second or third trimester
- Healthcare providers
- Household members of high-risk individuals
- Children 6-23 months of age (recommendations currently being revised to include children 24-59 months of age)
- People age 50-64 may want to consider the vaccine
- Anyone wishing to reduce their risk of getting the flu should consider the vaccine