Common Illnesses

Influenza

What is Influenza?

Influenza (the flu) is a disease of the breathing passages caused by the influenza virus. It affects people of all ages as it spreads through the air from person to person. The virus can be as contagious as the common cold and is easily transmitted from people who are already infected. You can also get the flu from those who have been exposed, but have not yet developed symptoms. This means that you can be contagious and not even know it.

The flu is more serious than a cold, often causing severe symptoms such as body aches, exhaustion, high fever, respiratory inflammation, congestion, cough and more. You could be ill for a week with some symptoms lingering for up to a month. For people that are classified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as high-risk, it is especially important to get vaccinated. This group includes people over 65; a household contact of persons at increased risk of flu-related complications, anyone with heart disease, diabetes, kidney disorder, blood disorder or an impaired immune system. In addition it is recommended that college students living in crowded situations, such as dorms, consider receiving the vaccine.

Influenza is a serious disease that is caused by a virus that spreads from one infected person to another by droplets from coughing or sneezing. The flu causes fever (100 to 104 degrees F), chills, cough, muscle aches, sore throat and headaches. Symptoms last from seven to ten days and are incapacitating. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are not the flu. The flu season in the U.S. runs from November to March or April of every year. The influenza vaccine (shot) can prevent the flu. Protection develops about two weeks after the shot is given and lasts for about a year. The flu causes thousands of deaths each year, mostly among the elderly, but people of any age can get the flu.

Symptoms of the Flu include:

  • Sudden onset
  • High fever (greater than 100.4 degrees F.)
  • Extreme fatigue (can’t get out of bed)
  • Headache
  • Generalized muscle aches
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Complications of the flu can include dehydration, ear or sinus infections and pneumonia.

The flu is spread, either directly by coughing or sneezing into someone’s face, or less often, by touching a contaminated object (such as a doorknob, elevator button, money, etc.) and then touching one’s own nose or mouth. People are contagious one day before they develop symptoms and for five to seven days after becoming sick.

Emergency Warning Signs - Seek Immediate Medical Attention

  • High or prolonged fever (>103 degrees or >three days)
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Severe/persistent vomiting (not a usual symptom of the flu)

Tips for Prevention

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue if you are coughing or sneezing. If a tissue is not available, cough/sneeze into the inside of your elbow, not your hand. Dispose of tissue, then wash your hands immediately with soap & water or an alcohol based cleaner.
  • Wash your hands after being in a public place and immediately before eating.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

A flu shot is your best shot at protection

Flu vaccine is 75 to 90% effective in preventing infection. Contrary to a popular myth, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine since it is made from highly purified, egg-grown viruses that have been rendered noninfectious.

The vaccine causes your body to produce antibodies that protect it against the virus. Even if you received a flu shot last year, you still need to receive another one this year to remain protected. Each year the flu strain changes and your body slowly loses its immunity to the flu.

Anyone can benefit from flu vaccination, but it is especially important for the following who are in a High Risk Category:

  • Anyone with a long-term health problem such as heart disease, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, lung disease, anemia or other blood disorders
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS, long-term steroid treatment, cancer treatment, etc.
  • Anyone up to 18 years of age on long term aspirin therapy.
  • Pregnant women past their third month of pregnancy.

Who should NOT get the flu shot?

Those who are allergic to eggs or who have had a previous allergic reaction to a flu vaccine and people with a history of Guillain Barre are advised not to receive vaccination.

For information about possible flu shot clinics go to: www.findaflushot.com.

For further flu information, visit the Centers for Disease Control.