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Influenza (Flu)

Influenza, or the respiratory "Flu," is a fever-producing illness that frequently occurs in the cooler months of the year, sometimes in epidemic proportions. It is quite uncomfortable and highly contagious. Typically the symptoms come on very rapidly and include a burning in the throat or upper chest, soon followed by chills, body aches and cough. Fevers may reach 103 F. or higher. Fatigue, nausea and headache are common.

The illness is caused by one of many influenza viruses, and until recently there was no effective treatment. We now have some medications that if taken early in the illness will slow down the growth of the virus and limit the severity of the infection.

The diagnosis is usually made by the typical presentation, particularly during a community epidemic. It can be confirmed by a lab test using a swab of the nose or throat.

Influenza will usually get better in about a week or so. Unfortunately, some people develop complications such as pneumonia or severe breathing problems. Precautions to prevent spread of the infection are very important, especially for older or previously ill individuals.

Home Care for Influenza

  • The main treatment for influenza is rest and drinking lots of fluids. Controlling the fever, although sometimes difficult, will allow some comfort. Acetaminophen is safest. Never give aspirin to a child with influenza or chickenpox.

  • Humidity or use of a vaporizer may help with the cough. Guiafenesin-containing cough remedies will also help somewhat. Try to avoid coughing into areas frequented by other family members, and wash your hands often. Smoking is harmful.

  • If you get to your physician within the first 48 hours of onset of the illness, you may be prescribed an oral or inhaled medication to reduce the severity of the illness. Take it as directed. (The inhaled medication requires following some specific steps to be used effectively, so you may want to ask for a demonstration from your pharmacist.)

  • Note: Most coughing illnesses are not influenza, even during the flu season. Our ability to treat them is limited, and usually antibiotics do not help. If you have any concern that you have pneumonia or another serious respiratory illness, be sure to inform your provider.

 

Call or Return If Any of the Following Occur:

  • Symptoms not improving within 5 days

  • Increasing or new onset of shortness of breath

  • Change in the quality of your cough, or blood in your sputum two or more times

  • Vomiting or abdominal pains

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