Getting Ready For Flu Season
Influenza, commonly referred to as "the flue", is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Infection with these viruses can result in illness ranging from mild to severe and life-threatening complications. As estimated 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu each year. An average of 114,000 people are hospitalized for flu related complications and 36,000 Americans die each year from the flu.
Symptoms of the flu include: fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are much more common among children than adults.
The main way the influenza virus is spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of a cough or sneeze. Scientific studies show that adults can shed a virus from 1 day before developing symptoms to up to 7 days after getting sick. In general, more viruses are shed earlier in the illness than later.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall, providing you do not have contraindications to receiving influenza vaccine. Other preventive steps to help prevent the spread of illnesses like flu are:
If you develop the flu, it is advisable to get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. You can also take medications to relieve the symptoms of the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, especially with fever, without first speaking to your doctor.
Four antiviral medications (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamavir and oseltamivir) have been approved for treatment of the flu. All these must be prescribed by a physician. Antiviral treatment last for 5 days and must be started within the first 2 days of illness.
If you are at special risk from complications of flu, consult your physician when your symptoms begin. This includes people over 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women or children.
The total amount of influenza vaccine doses to be produced for the 2004-2005 season is about 95 million. Last year cases of influenza began to appear in October with widespread activity in November and December. This year the CDC has increased its purchase of vaccines by nearly 2 million doses over last year.
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