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Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs that ranks as one of the most severe illnesses of the winter season. It is spread easily from person to person primarily when an infected person coughs or sneezes (via airborne droplets of respiratory fluids). Flu viruses can enter the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. After a person has been infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within 2 to 4 days. The infection is considered contagious for another 3 to 4 days after symptoms appear. The greatest risk of infection is in highly populated areas, where people live or work in crowded conditions, such as schools.

Symptoms of flu usually begin with a headache, chills, and dry cough, which are followed rapidly by body aches, fever, and excessive tiredness. It usually puts you in bed for several days. After 2 to 3 days the upper respiratory symptoms become noticeable, mainly nasal congestion and sore throat.

It is best to prevent influenza before it occurs. The best prevention is getting a flu shot yearly in the fall months. Also wash your hands often and keep them away from your nose, eyes, and mouth. It is important to get enough rest and proper nutrition.

Treatment consists of:

  • rest, drinking plenty of water (sips if this is all you can tolerate)
  • taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and discomfort
  • staying away from cigarette smoke

There is an anti viral medication available that can lessen the severity and duration of the flu if started within 48 hours of onset. Antibiotics are not effective against flu viruses.

Complications of the flu generally result from bacterial infections in the lower respiratory tract. These usually appear when one begins to feel better. A person may develop a persistent, productive cough, more fever and chills, and chest pain with breathing. A visit to the doctor is indicated if these symptoms appear.

See a doctor immediately if you have a sudden onset of high fever, nausea and vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, and sensitivity to light. Also see a doctor if you become extremely short of breath, confused, or dizzy.


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