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What is Influenza (also called Flu)?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each fall.

Every year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • about 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Symptoms of Flu

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults

 

Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

 


Knowing the Signs of the Flu

Knowing the signs of the flu is important if one is to make an accurate diagnosis of the illness. Influenza is a dangerous disease that affects anywhere from 5-20% of the United States at any given year. It has killed millions of people in the past, and continues to kill thousands more each year.

Self-diagnosing may seem simple, but in actuality it can be tricky. Many other illnesses exhibit the symptoms that influenza does, so it is vital that one consult a doctor before coming to a conclusion regarding one's condition. Any time that you come down with something, be sure to consult with a physician so that you can be sure of what you have and what you should do.

The Symptoms of Flu

The symptoms of flu include the following:

Fever. The flu patient is "burning up." Often, the fever is very high, about 3-5 degrees Celsius above the normal temperature.

Headache. The headache is persistent, often over a period of a few days. The flu patient may often feel lightheaded, perhaps unable to do serious mental tasks.

Fatigue. The flu patient often feels extremely tired, even if he has not done anything particularly strenuous. This feeling of fatigue continues even when he has gotten more than enough rest.

Dry Cough and Sore Throat. The flu patient experiences throat irritation, but it is not due to any phlegm or any outside irritant. Coughs are painful yet unproductive.

Runny or stuffy nose. The flu patient has problems with the mucus in the nose - either the nose becomes too runny, or it stuffs up. Either condition may interfere with the patient's normal breathing patterns.

Muscle Aches. The flu patient's body is often sore in many spots. When he moves, his movements are labored, even painful. The tiredness of the muscles is not unlike that produced by heavy physical labor.

Stomach symptoms. These include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. It is possible for the flu patient to exhibit these symptoms; but they are far commoner in children than they are in adults.

Taking the Next Step

Once you have determined that you (or someone you know) have the flu, be sure to stay away from other people for a while. Flu is infectious, so anyone who gets near to a flu patient is at heightened risk of contracting the illness himself. Take a sick leave from work or absent yourself from school. Don't push yourself - it will only make things worse and likely get the people around you sick as well. So don't be selfish.

If you are able to, visit your doctor and confirm the diagnosis. Ask for medication that can help you recover, and be faithful in taking the prescribed medicine. If you haven't been getting flu shots, begin to do so. The best time to get started is on the months of September, October, and November, which is before the "flu season" begins. This will give the body the necessary time it needs to prepare for the increased risk of flu during those months.

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Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, ACIP makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

1. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:

  • Children aged 6–59 months of age,
  • Pregnant women,
  • People 50 years of age and older,
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

2. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above)
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
  • Health care workers.

3. Anyone who wants to decrease their risk of influenza.

 

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