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Influenza - The Flu

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5-20% of the U.S. population get the flu each year resulting in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and about 36,000 deaths annually.

Who's at Risk for Getting the Flu?

Any one who comes in contact with the influenza virus is at risk for getting the flu. However, there are some people who will have a very difficult time fighting the effects of this virus. The "high risk" group includes people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and young children. Also included in the high risk group are healthcare workers, pregnant women, and people suffering from certain diseases and conditions including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and congestive heart failure.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms are similar (yet often more extreme) to symptoms of the common cold. These symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Extreme Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Muscle Aches and Body Pains
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Dry Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Nausea, Vomiting, and Diarrhea (mostly seen in children rather than adults)

Complications of The Flu

There are many complications that can occur from having the flu. Bacterial pneumonia is a very serious compication that can be caused by the flu. Other complications include dehydration and wosening of certain chronic diseases like asthma, COPD, diabetes, or congestive heart failure. Furthermore, sinus and ear infections may be seen in children.

How to Avoid the Flu

Aside from getting the flu vaccine there are many things that can be done to decrease the chance of getting the flu. Influenza is a respiratory virus that usually enters the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes. Many times the flu virus enters the body by breathing in tiny droplets of the virus when a sick person coughs or sneezes near by. Always cover your mouth and nose when you cough and ask others to do this too. Also, another common way the flu virus enters the body is by touching objects contaminated with the virus and then rubbing your eyes, nose, or mouth. Hands should be washed often to help avoid the flu.

Flu Treatments

Flu treatment is mainly aimed at treating the symptoms. Antibiotics do not help to kill influenza virus because antibiotics kill bacteria infections, not viral infections. Viral infections must be killed by the body's natural defenses (the immune system). Treatment for the flu includes getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of liquids, avoiding alcohol and tobacco products, and taking medication to relieve symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and congestion. Asprin should never be given to children or teenagers who have flu like symptoms, especially fever, without first speaking to your doctor.

Always be sure to follow any special instructions given by your doctor and stay home from work or school while you are sick to help prevent spreading the flu to other people.