WHAT IS INFLUENZA?
Influenza or “Flu” is a respiratory virus. It causes a set of respiratory and systemic symptoms that often vary slightly from one individual to the next. The most common complaints include:
- A relatively high fever, from 2 to 6 degrees above your normal temperature, in the 100 to 104 F. range, and usually persistent for 3 to 5 days.
- Cough which starts dry and hacking, and progresses over a 3 to 5 day period into one which is wet and produces thick, colored mucus. Cough is often the most troublesome symptom and may last over 2 weeks in healthy individuals.
- Headache which may be mild to severe.
- Muscle aches.
- Fatigue, which may persist for 1-3 weeks.
- Sore throat.
- Nasal congestion and red eyes.
- Vomiting and diarrhea, primarily in young children, rarely in adults.
Symptoms may be severe and persist longer in persons whose immune system is compromised, smokers, the elderly or those who have chronic illnesses, especially COPD and asthma.SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT TO PREVENT SECONDARY PNEUMONIA!
HOW CONTAGIOUS IS IT?
Influenza is highly contagious. It is an airborne disease, which means it is passed by aerosolized droplets of secretions released by the infected individual during coughing, sneezing and even when speaking. It remains contagious for the first 5 to 7 days from onset of fever. This contagious period could be much longer in individuals with compromised immune systems. The incubation period is usually short, between 1 to 4 days.
CAN I GET IT MORE THAN ONCE?
Yes! There are several common strains of influenza, and they change, or shift just enough over the course of a year that you can probably get it once or twice a year for the rest of your life. That is why our Center For Disease Control (CDC) and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) cooperate to make a Flu vaccine available to the world every year.
WHAT IS THE FLU VACCINE?
The CDC and WHO create a vaccine for the upcoming year, which usually contains the 3 most common strains of influenza found in various hotspots around the world. If possible, the vaccine will be made from portions of the virus, so no “live” or complete virus will be present, and the vaccine cannot actually cause the flu.
The vaccine usually contains the 3 most common strains from the past year of careful tracking by these organizations. The vaccine will provide a healthy immune system with a sample of the virus outer sheath, so antibodies will be made over a two to 4 week period and maintained for about 2 to 4 months. After that time, the effectiveness of the vaccine steadily drops in most people, and they become easily infected once again.
Allergy to eggs does not necessarily prevent you from getting a flu vaccine. Talk to your allergist. Recent studies suggest it is safe even for egg allergic individuals.
HOW BAD IS THE FLU?
It varies a lot every year. From 5 to 40 % of the population develop flu symptoms each year, for as long as we have kept records. Deaths usually occur in the elderly, but several times this century a very deadly strain has spread rapidly through the healthy population. Usually about 20,000 elderly or chronically ill individuals die in the U.S. from the flu or from secondary pneumonia following the flu. In the 1917-18 epidemic, about 650,000 U.S. citizens died. As a matter of fact, worldwide deaths from the flu in that year totaled more than the combat related deaths of World War I. The Asian flu of 1957 and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968 were also severe in the U.S., but not nearly as bad as 1917.
WHO SHOULD BE VACCINATED?
- Anyone over age 50.
- People with chronic illnesses, including asthma and COPD.
- Residents of long term care facilities.
- Anyone 6 months to 18 years on long term aspirin therapy.
- Women who are pregnant and will be past their 3rd month of pregnancy in the flu season.
- Health care workers and people who are likely to be exposed to influenza due to work.
- What Is The Best Time To Get Vaccinated?
Vaccines start being released in October. The peak vaccination period is late October through November. December is still not too late. You need at least 2 weeks to build immunity. The flu season usually starts in late December and continues through March in Southern California
ARE THERE EFFECTIVE MEDICATIONS TO TREAT INFLUENZA?
YES! Act quickly. There are effective medications that will reduce flu symptoms significantly if taken within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. They are safe for most age groups, down to 1year old. These medications can also be used to prevent flu if it has started in a family or group not protected by the flu vaccine. CALL YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY.