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The Flu

Influenza  

By Todd Spector MD

What is the Flu?

Influenza is a virus that is most commonly seen in the late fall and winter months, October to May.  The virus is spread through respiratory secretions and is spread easily during winter months when people spend more time together indoors. There are three main strains of Influenza which are Influenza A, B, C as well as many subtypes. Types A&B are the ones that cause typical flu symptoms, whereas type C is likely to resemble a common cold. Influenza affects everyone from infancy to old age.

How do I know if I have the flu and not another viral syndrome?

Typically the flu starts with sudden onset of high fever 100 to 104f (38.1-40.0c) and cough. Muscle aches, headache, muscle cramps, sore throat, and occasionally nausea and vomiting will start soon after.  In children, vomiting and diarrhea are much more common.  In infants, Influenza can cause difficulty breathing and wheezing.  Usually other viral syndromes or "colds" are not associated with fevers and muscle aches. Typical "cold" symptoms are runny nose, cough, sore throat and sneezing.

What should I do if I think I have the flu or if someone in my family has it?

If you have abrupt onset of temperature 100 to 104f (38.1-40.0c) with cough and muscle aches we would like to see you within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms if you're not feeling improved.  The reason we would like to see you is that we can do office testing for Influenza and give medication to shorten the duration and severity of the illness.  If the symptoms are present for longer than 48 hours the medications are no longer effective.

What treatments are available for the flu?

Usually, the flu will resolve spontaneously after about 7 days.  It is normal to have fatigue and malaise for 2-3 weeks following the onset of symptoms. Many people will not realize they have the flu and will do fine with symptomatic therapy of muscle aches, fevers, and headaches using over the counter flu remedies. We also have antiviral medications that can be prescribed if we can make a diagnosis within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Who should get a flu shot?

Complications of the flu are most commonly seen in very young children 6-23 months as well as adults older than 65. Other people who are at risk for complications of the flu are people with chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung or immune disorders and children who are on chronic aspirin therapy. These are the people for whom the flu shots are clearly indicated. When supplies are available, we would like to give everyone over 6 months of age the flu shot.

What about this year's flu shot shortage?

Please read the current update from the CDC.

Can I get the Flu from the Flu vaccine?

NO.

Can I still get the Flu even if I've had the Flu shot?

Yes, as there are many flu strains, but you will have a much lower likelihood of contracting the flu if you've been vaccinated.  It is possible to get other viral syndromes that are not Influenza that may make you feel sick.

Am I contagious?

Adults are contagious for 1 day before symptoms are present until about 7 days after the first symptoms. In children viral shedding may last for weeks as their immune systems are not as strong as adults.

How do I prevent the Flu?

Getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu especially for the high risk groups. If flu shots are not available or you don't want to get one, washing your hands with soap and water before all meals and after each trip to the restroom will decrease spreading.  Also, the alcohol based antiseptic gels work very well. If you know someone has the flu, avoid close contact with them.

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