The Facts About Influenza

The falling temperatures remind us that flu season is well on its way. The months of December through March are known as “flu season”. Knowing the facts and taking precautionary actions can reduce your risks of getting influenza this season as well as spare you the aches and pains that come with it. Many people mistake a cold for a case of the flu which typically starts with chills and cough and possibly a headache which are followed quickly by loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, a fever. Most infected people will also have a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and sore throat. A typical case of the flu can last a week to ten days but can cause serious complications for many small children and elderly people.

Approximately 20% of the American population or 90 million people will get the flu this year and many of those infected people will be hospitalized sue to complications. Influenza kills over 30,000 people every year due to these complications. It is not an illness you should take lightly. Be aware of this virus and ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting it.

Influenza or the “flu: is an airborne virus that attacks your respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs). It is spread when a person sneezes, coughs or even talks. Some scientists have estimated that a sneeze can travel at almost 100 mph so there is really no way to protect yourself from this virus. The best defense you have is to get a flu shot every season. Vaccines are available from your family physician and offered by many pharmacy chains beginning in October. The vaccine is said to be 70-92% effective in preventing or reducing the severity of the flu. There are many groups of people at risk for complications if they get the flu. Physicians highly recommend receiving a vaccine if you are:

A child between 6 – 23 months
Anyone with chronic heart or lung disease
All people living in a nursing home
Senior citizens 65 years of age and older
Persons with chronic conditions such as cancer, HIV or diabetes
Health care workers

Certain people should not get flu vaccines. Children under six months and anyone with a severe allergy to eggs should not receive a flu vaccine. In recent years there has been a shortage of flu vaccines in many areas, so if you find yourself unable to get a flu vaccine, there are other ways to protect yourself and your family from getting this virus.

Keep your distance from friends, family and co-workers with the flu.
Wash those hands! Door knobs, handles, telephones and other shared surfaces are rampant with germs especially during the flu season. (It’s also a great idea to use disinfectant on these surfaces often!)
If you sneeze or cough use a tissue and then throw it away.
Take care of you! We tend to run ourselves down during the busy holiday months so make sure you eat a well balanced diet and get plenty of rest.

If your efforts fail and you get the influenza virus, there are several things you can do to put yourself on the road to recovery. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Water, juices and even fruits with a high water content are OK. Get lots of sleep, this is usually an easy thing to do if you come down with a case of the flu! Doctors recommend taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever and aches. Never take aspirin which has been associated with Reye’s Syndrome. The flu is a viral infection and because there are no antibiotics for a viral infection, you do not need to visit your doctor unless there are complications or severe symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe a medication such as amantadine or rimantadine that can reduce the length of your illness.

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