Influenza Explained

Influenza (commonly known as the flu), is a viral infections that affects the respiratory system. This includes the lungs, nose and throat. Many times, the flu eventually goes away. However, there are some instances where there are complications that can be fatal. There is a certain population that is at a higher risk for having complications resulting from the flu. This population include adults over the age of 65, children under the age of 5, pregnant women, residents of a long-term care facility, those with immune deficiencies, those with chronic illnesses (such as kidney disease, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes), and those who are obese.

It is highly recommended to be vaccinated against the flu.

The initial symptoms of the flu can be commonly mistaken for the common cold. One would experience a sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. The only difference that many do not notice is that a cold develops gradually, while the flu comes suddenly. Flu symptoms are also commonly more severe than cold symptoms. Common signs of the flu include a sore throat, a persistent dry cough, headaches, fatigue, weakness, chills, sweats, aching muscles, nasal congestion, and a fever that is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The flu is caused by a flu virus. These viruses can often be easily spread through the air in droplets when a person with the flu coughs, talks, or sneezes. Because the influenza virus is constantly changing, there are always new strands arising. So once you have had the flu from a certain strand of the flu virus, you are immune to it due to the antibodies.

However, because there are so many different strands, the antibodies against past flu viruses cannot protect you from the new ones.

There are many risk factors that increases the risk for developing the flu and flu complications.

  • Age: Young children and older adults are more susceptible to the flu

  • Living conditions: Those who live in a long term facility with many other residents are more likely to contract the flu virus due to close living spaces.

  • Chronic illness: Those with a chronic illness such as heart problems, asthma, and diabetes have an increased risk for flu complications.

  • Weakened immune system: A weakened immune system due to HIV, AIDs, corticosteroids, cancer treatments, and anti-rejection drugs can make you more susceptible to the virus.

  • Obesity: Those who are obese with a BMI greater than 40 have an increased risk of flu complications.

  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at a higher risk for flu complication, especially in the second and third trimester of the pregnancy.

The best treatment that works well for the flu is bed rest and fluids. To prevent dehydration, you should drink a lot of liquids such as water, juice, and soup. By resting, you are helping your immune system fight the influenza virus. This is why bed rest is vital. If the painful symptoms of the flu is too painful, the over the counter painkillers may be an options. You should consider acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the aching symptoms. However, young children should not take painkillers due to the risk for Ryes's syndrome.

A doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication for the flu. Examples include zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). These medications can not only decrease the longevity of the illness, but also decrease the chances for complications. However there are some side effects, including vomiting and nausea. Oseltamivir has been associated with delirium and self harming behaviors in adolescents.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises everyone to have an annual flu vaccination for those older than 6 months. The vaccine consists of three or four different flu viruses that is expected to be common in the upcoming flue season. In order to control infection, it is recommended to wash your hands frequently, avoiding crowds, and containing your coughs and sneezes.

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