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Flu Symptoms - Do I Have It?
Posted Wednesday, March 9, 2005E-mail this page Printer-friendly page
What is Flu?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness which occurs almost exclusively in the winter months. It can range from mild to severe symptoms and can be complicated by other infections, illness and even death.
Flu is spread by a virus called Influenza, of which, there are several subtypes. The virus is spread through the air by way of droplets from infected individuals. These airborne droplets come from Flu-infected individuals who have coughed or sneezed in your general area.
Flu is very contagious which explains why the disease becomes so widespread each year.Who gets the Flu?
Everyone is at risk for getting the flu. Since it is so contagious, however, certain individuals may be at higher risk - such as health care workers, nursing home workers or anyone else that is likely to be around sick individuals.
Of particular concern, however, is that flu often can lead to other dangerous complications. In particular, elderly people or those with other existing diseases such as diabetes, heart failure or lung disease are much more likely to develop complications related to the Flu. Once weakened by the initial infection, their bodies are not strong enough to fight off other secondary infections which can lead to hospitalization and even death.
Think you're safe because you're young and healthy? Even so, the flu can knock you off your feet for many days, keeping you from work and fun.Flu Symptoms
Symptoms of Flu are similar to other Viral illnesses (like the Common Cold), but tend to be much more severe.
Symptoms typically start very suddenly and you may develop Fever, Headache, Muscle Aches, Fatigue, Cough and Sore Throat.
These symptoms may vary from person to person and typically last two to five days. Even after the recovery from the acute illness, you can feel "wiped out" for days to weeks following the flu.Can I prevent getting the Flu?
The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting the Flu.
As mentioned before, the Flu can be caused by several different strains or subtypes of the Influenza virus. Each year, the egg-heads at the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization track the influenza virus across the world, taking samples, trying to predict which particular strain is going to cause this year's Flu-outbreak.
While most anyone can get the Flu vaccine, the following individuals are particularly recommended to get a yearly flu vaccine:
- People 50 years or older
Those that should avoid the flu vaccine are people who are allergic to eggs (Flu vaccines are egg-based), those who have had bad reactions to the vaccine in the past, and those are are currently sick with a fever.
Contrary to popular myth, the Flu vaccine does not actually cause the flu. While you can get some mild side effects from the vaccine itself - such as soreness, redness, low grade fevers and aches - full blown illness is not a likely side effect.Too Late... I've got the Flu, Now What?
So, you've got the flu already... now what can you do?
In the past, you would have had to simply suck-it-up and deal with it for the 5 or so days that you would have the flu, but recently there have been two classes of medications that have been approved for the treatment of influenza. These are not "antibiotics" - antibiotics are only useful in treating bacterial infections. These are (appropriately enough) antiviral medications.
There's a catch, however. These antiviral medications only reduce the duration of symptoms by about 1 day. So instead of being sick for 5 days, you might be sick for 4 days. And... you have to start taking it within the first 48 hours after symptoms develop.
Not exactly a miracle cure. Regardless, you should speak with your doctor about these medications and whether or not they might be beneficial to you. In the future, vaccination may be your best bet.