Influenza Season is Approaching

     Influenza is an acute illness caused by a virus.  Many people refer to viral illnesses, in general, as the “flu”.  However, influenza is a specific virus that causes certain symptoms.

     Influenza is a contagious illness.  The virus is spread through respiratory secretions.  The illness generally occurs 1 to 3 days after exposure.  The symptoms generally include fever, muscle aches, chills, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite.  Respiratory symptoms including cough, sore throat, nasal congestion,  hoarseness, and eye inflammation are common. The acute phase of the illness generally lasts 5-7 days but the complete recovery may take several weeks.

     Since influenza is a viral illness, there are no conventional antibiotics that are effective in treating the illness.  The illness tends to run its course in healthy individuals without any prescribed medicines.  There are some relatively new medications now available that may decrease the duration of the illness by 1-3 days.  These medications would need to be started within the first two days of the illness to be effective, so this limits their usefulness.

      Influenza is treated primarily with rest, fluids, Tylenol (not aspirin), decongestants, and cough drops or cough syrup.  Occasionally, bacterial complications can occur with influenza.  In those cases, antibiotics would be indicated. 

     Influenza can be avoided by careful, frequent hand washing and avoidance of individuals who have symptoms.  Influenza vaccine is available and is best given in October and November, though it can be given as late as January.  The vaccine is advised for anyone over 65 years old, patients with respiratory illnesses or patients with other chronic illnesses.  Anyone can be vaccinated if desired.  Contrary to popular belief, people cannot get the flu from the vaccine. 

     You should seek medical attention if you have shortness of breath, persistent vomiting, or persistent fever.  There are tests that can be done in the office to confirm the “flu” and then discuss treatment options.

P. Michael Shattuck