What is Diabetes?
- Flu or is it just a Cold
Virus and Viruses
Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory infection caused by a
variety of flu viruses. The most familiar aspect of the flu is the way it
can "knock you off your feet" as it sweeps through entire communities.
virus differs in several ways from the common cold, a respiratory
infection also caused by viruses. For example, people with colds rarely
get fevers or headaches or suffer from the extreme exhaustion that flu
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 10
to 20 percent of Americans come down with the flu virus during each flu season,
which typically lasts from November to March. Children are two to three
times more likely than adults to get sick with the flu, and children
frequently spread the virus to others. Although most people recover from
the illness, CDC estimates that in the United States more than 100,000
people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die from the flu and its
complications every year.
Flu outbreaks usually begin suddenly and occur
mainly in the late fall and winter. The disease spreads through
communities creating an epidemic. During the epidemic, the number of cases
peaks in about 3 weeks and subsides after another 3 or 4 weeks. Half of
the population of a community may be affected. Because schools are an
excellent place for flu viruses to attack and spread, families with
school-age children have more infections than other families, with an
average of one-third of the family members infected each year.
IMPORTANCE OF FLU
Besides the rapid start of the outbreaks and the
large numbers of people affected, the flu is an important disease because
it can cause serious complications. Most people who get the flu get better
within a week (although they may have a lingering cough and tire easily
for a while longer). For elderly people, newborn babies, and people with
certain chronic illnesses, however, the flu and its complications can be
You can get the flu if someone around you who has the
flu coughs or sneezes. You can get the flu simply by touching a surface
like a telephone or door knob that has been contaminated by a touch from
someone who has the flu. The viruses can pass through the air and enter
your body through your nose or mouth. If you've touched a contaminated
surface, they can pass from your hand to your nose or mouth.
You are at greatest risk of getting infected in highly populated areas,
such as in crowded living conditions and in schools.
If you get infected by the flu virus, you will usually
feel symptoms 1 to 4 days later. You can spread the flu to others before
your symptoms start and for another 3 to 4 days after your symptoms
appear. The symptoms start very quickly and may include
Typically, the fever begins to decline on the second or third day of
the illness. The flu almost never causes symptoms in the stomach and
intestines. The illness that some call "stomach flu" is not influenza.
providers diagnose the flu on the
basis of whether it is epidemic in the community and whether the person's
complaints fit the current pattern of symptoms. Health providers
rarely use laboratory tests to identify the virus during an epidemic.
Health officials, however, monitor certain U.S. health clinics and do
laboratory tests to determine which type of flu virus is responsible for
The main way to keep from getting flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine.
You can get the vaccine at your doctor's office or a local clinic, and in
many communities at workplaces, supermarkets, and drugstores. You must get
the vaccine every year because it changes.
Scientists make a different vaccine every year because the strains of
flu viruses change from year to year. Nine to 10 months before the flu
season begins, they prepare a new vaccine made from inactivated (killed)
flu viruses. Because the viruses are killed, they cannot cause infection.
The vaccine preparation is based on the strains of the flu viruses that
are in circulation at the time. It includes those A and B viruses (see
section below on types of flu viruses) expected to circulate the following
Sometimes, an unpredicted new strain may appear after the vaccine has
been made and distributed to doctor's offices and clinics. Because of
this, even if you do get the flu vaccine, you still may get infected. If
you do get infected, however, the disease usually is milder because the
vaccine still will give you some protection.
Until recently, you could get the flu vaccine only as an injection
(shot). In 2003, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved
a nasal spray flu vaccine called FluMist, which you can get from your
health care provider. FDA approved it for use in healthy people aged 5 to
You should not use FluMist if
You have certain lung conditions, including asthma, or heart
You have metabolic disorders such as diabetes or kidney dysfunction
You have an immunodeficiency disease or are on immunosuppressive
You have had Guillain-Barré syndrome
You are pregnant
You have a history of allergy or hypersensitivity, including
anaphylaxis, to any of the parts of FluMist or to eggs
Children or teenagers who regularly take aspirin or products containing
aspirin also should not take FluMist.
Your immune system takes time to respond to the flu vaccine. Therefore,
you should get vaccinated 6 to 8 weeks before flu season begins in
November to prevent getting infected or reduce the severity of flu if you
do get it. Because the flu season usually lasts until March, however, it's
not too late to get it after the season has begun. The vaccine itself
cannot cause the flu, but you could become exposed to the virus by someone
else and get infected soon after you are vaccinated.
Possible side effects
You should be aware that the flu vaccine can cause side effects. The
most common side effect in children and adults is soreness at the site of
the vaccination. Other side effects, especially in children who previously
have not been exposed to the flu virus, include fever, tiredness, and sore
muscles. These side effects may begin 6 to 12 hours after vaccination and
may last for up to 2 days.
Viruses for producing the vaccine are grown in chicken eggs and then
killed with a chemical so that they can no longer cause an infection. The
flu vaccine may contain some egg protein, which can cause an allergic
reaction. Therefore, if you are allergic to eggs or have ever had a
serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, CDC recommends that you
consult with your health care provider before getting vaccinated.
If you are in any of the following groups or live in a household with
someone who is, CDC recommends that you get the flu vaccine.
You are 50 years of age or older
You have chronic diseases of your heart, lungs, or kidneys
You have diabetes
Your immune system does not function properly
You have a severe form of anemia
You will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season
You live in a nursing home or other chronic-care housing facility
You are in close contact with children 0 to 23 months of age
CDC recommends that children 6 months
to 23 months of age get the flu vaccine. Children and teenagers (2 to 18
years of age) should get the flu vaccine if they are taking long-term
aspirin treatment as they may be at risk of developing Reye's syndrome
following a flu infection (see section on complications in children). They
should also get the flu vaccine if they live in a household with someone
in the above groups.
Health care providers and volunteers should get the flu vaccine if they
work with people in any of the above groups.
Medicine for Prevention
Although the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu,
three antiviral medicines also are available by prescription that will
help prevent flu infection.
Tamiflu is for use in adults and teenagers 13 years and older.
Rimantadine and amantadine may be used by adults and children who are 1
year of age and older.
These medicines help prevent the flu if you take them for at least 2
weeks during the outbreak of flu in your community
You may use these medicines if you are in close contact with family
members or others who have the flu
You may use them if you are in close contact with people who have
been vaccinated but whom you want to give added protection from getting
You may use either medicine immediately following flu vaccination
during a flu epidemic to protect you during the 2- to 4-week period
before antibodies (proteins from your immune system that protect you
from the flu virus) develop or when a flu epidemic is caused by virus
strains other than those covered by the vaccine
Flumadine and Symmetrel have unpleasant side effects. Your health care
provider can help you decide which medicine is best for you. You should
discuss the flu vaccine and medicines with your health care provider
before the flu season begins.
Many people treat their flu infections by simply
Resting in bed
Drinking plenty of fluids
Taking over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin or acetaminophen
(Tylenol, for example)
Do not give aspirin to children and adolescents who
have the flu.
Do not take antibiotics to treat the flu because they
do not work on viruses. Antibiotics only work against some infections
caused by bacteria.
Medicine for Treatment
If you do get the flu and want to take medicine to treat it, your
health care provider may prescribe one of four available antiviral
Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is for adults and children 1 year and older
and Relenza (zanamivir) is for adults and children 7 years and older who
have an uncomplicated flu infection and who have had symptoms for no
more than 2 days. Both treat influenza type A and type B infections.
Flumadine (rimantadine) helps adults who have influenza type A virus
infections. It has no effect on influenza type B virus infections.
Symmetrel (amantadine) may be taken by adults and children who are 1
year of age and older to prevent and treat type A influenza virus
infections. Symmetrel, however, is more likely to cause side effects
such as lightheadedness and inability to sleep more often than is
To work well, you must take these medicines within 48 hours after the
flu begins. They reduce the length of time fever and other symptoms last
and allow you to return to your daily routine quicker.
You can have flu complications if you get a
bacterial infection, which can cause pneumonia in your weakened lungs.
Pneumonia also can be caused by the flu virus itself.
Complications usually appear after you start feeling better. After a
brief period of improvement, you may suddenly get symptoms.
Pneumonia can be a very serious and sometimes life-threatening
condition. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your
health care provider immediately to get the appropriate treatment.
Flu complications in children and teenagers
Reye's syndrome, a condition that affects the nerves, sometimes
develops in children and teenagers who are recovering from the flu. Reye's
syndrome begins with nausea and vomiting, but the progressive mental
changes (such as confusion or delirium) cause the greatest concern.
The syndrome often begins in young people after they take aspirin to
get rid of fever or pain. Although very few children develop Reye's
syndrome, you should consult a health care provider before giving aspirin
or products that contain aspirin to children. Acetaminophen does not seem
to be connected with Reye's syndrome.
Other complications of the flu that can affect children are
Newborn babies recently out of intensive care units are particularly
vulnerable to suffering from flu complications.
TYPES OF FLU VIRUSES
The first flu virus was identified in the
1930s. Since then, scientists have classified flu viruses into types
Type A is the most common and usually causes the most serious
Type B outbreaks also can cause epidemics, but the disease it
produces generally is milder than that caused by type A
Type C viruses, on the other hand, never have been connected with a
Source: Public Domain
Centers For Disease Control and
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