Influenza (patient information)
Influenza On the Web
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What are the symptoms of Influenza?
Other common symptoms include:
Other symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Stuffy, congested nose
- Worsening of underlying illness, such as asthma or heart failure
What causes Influenza?
The most common way to catch the flu is by breathing in droplets from coughs or sneezes. Less often, it is spread when you touch a surface such as a faucet handle or phone that has the virus on it, and then touch your own mouth, nose, or eyes.
Symptoms appear 1 - 7 days later (usually within 2 - 3 days). Because the flu spreads through the air and is very contagious, it often strikes a community all at once, causing an epidemic illness. This creates a cluster of school and work absences. Many students become sick within 2 or 3 weeks of the flu's arrival in a school.
Tens of millions of people in the United States get the flu each year. Most get better within a week or two, but thousands become sick enough to be hospitalized. About 36,000 people die each year from complications of the flu.
Sometimes people confuse colds and flu, which share some of the same symptoms and typically occur at the same time of the year. However, the two diseases are very different. Most people get a cold several times each year, and the flu only once every few years.
People often use the term "stomach flu" to describe a viral illness where vomiting or diarrhea is the main symptom. This is incorrect, as the stomach symptoms are not caused by the flu virus. Flu infections are primarily respiratory infections.
Who is at highest risk?
The results of these tests can be available rapidly, and can help decide if specific treatment is appropriate. However, when flu is widespread in the community the diagnosis can often be made by simply identifying symptoms without further testing.
When to seek urgent medical care?
If you have mild illness and are not at high risk, take these steps:
- Take medicines that relieve symptoms and help you rest
- Drink plenty of liquids
- Avoid aspirin (especially teens and children)
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco
- Avoid antibiotics (unless necessary for another illness)
Where to find medical care for Influenza?
A yearly vaccine is recommended for children older than 6 months, adolescents, and adults.
Who should get a flu shot?
This is especially true for older adults with:
When should I get the flu shot?
October or November is the best time to get a flu shot, but you can still get the shot in December or later. Flu season can last as late as May.
Are there any side effects?
Side effects from the flu shot are mild. Some people feel sore at the spot where they got the shot. There is no reason to worry. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot is made from dead flu virus that will not cause the flu.
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
- People over age 50
- Children between 6 months and 2 years
- Women more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season
- Anyone living in a long-term care facility
- Anyone with chronic heart, lung, or kidney conditions, diabetes, or a weakened immune system
In most individuals who are otherwise healthy, the flu goes away within 7 to 10 days.
Possible complications, especially for those at high risk, include:
What health problems can the flu make worse?
The flu can also make some health problems worse. These health problems include:
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