WHAT IS IT?
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Commonly called “the flu,” influenza isn’t the same as stomach “flu” viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. You can inhale the droplets or you can pick up the germs by touching an object and then transfer them to your eyes, nose, or mouth. People with the flu are generally contagious from the day before symptoms first appear until five to 10 days after they begin.
If you’re young and healthy, the flu usually isn’t serious. Although you may feel miserable, it usually goes away with no lasting effects. Children and adults at high risk may develop complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, and sinus and ear infections. For older adults and people with chronic illnesses, pneumonia can be deadly.
People at higher risk of developing flu complications include young children, adults older than age 65, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people who have chronic illnesses.
Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly, and symptoms are often worse than a cold. Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 100 F (38 C)
- Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Chills and sweats
- Dry cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
Most people who get the flu can treat themselves at home and often don’t need to see a doctor.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice, and warm soups to prevent dehydration.
- Rest. Sleep helps your immune system fight the infection.
- Consider pain relievers. An over-the-counter pain reliever can combat the achiness associated with influenza.
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. If taken soon after noticeable symptoms begin, these drugs may shorten the duration of the flu by a day or so and help prevent serious complications.
- Wash your hands. Thorough and frequent hand-washing is the best way to prevent many common infections.
- Contain your coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose.
- Avoid crowds. Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.