Ask Your Doctor: INFLUENZA

anguillian
By anguillian January 29, 2018 09:57 Updated

 

 

Influenza, also more commonly called the flu, is affecting individuals worldwide at this time. This highly contagious viral infection is not the same as the common cold and can make you seriously ill and, in some cases, complications can develop which can be life threatening.

What is influenza?
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. The causative group of viruses are different from those that cause the common cold and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly – to be more severe and last longer. The flu can occur at any time during the year but tends to be more common during the colder months of the year. It can affect anyone, but it poses the greatest risks to the very young, the elderly and those individuals with medical disorders or impaired immune systems.

What are some symptoms the flu?
Some of the main symptoms of flu include:
• a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
• tiredness and weakness
• a headache
• general aches and pains
• a dry, chesty cough
Cold-like symptoms – such as a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat – can also be caused by flu, but they tend to be less severe than the other symptoms you have.
Flu can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you must stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

How long do symptoms last?
Most symptoms improve within five days to a week. In some cases, the symptoms might last longer, and some individuals might feel drained for weeks.

How is it spread?
The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.
These droplets typically spread about three feet. They hang suspended in the air for a while before landing on surfaces where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours.

Anyone who breathes in the droplets can catch the flu. You can also catch the virus by touching the surfaces that the droplets have landed on – if you pick up the virus on your hands and then touch your nose or mouth.
Everyday items at home and in public places can easily become contaminated with the flu virus. Some of these items include food, door handles, remote controls, handrails, telephone handsets and computer keyboards. Therefore, it is important to wash your hands frequently.

People with the virus are likely contagious from the day, or so, before symptoms first appear until about five days after symptoms begin, though sometimes people are contagious for as long as 10 days after symptoms appear. Children and people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for a slightly longer time.
You can catch the flu many times because flu viruses change regularly, and your body would not have natural resistance to the new versions.

Is it flu or a cold?
It can sometimes be difficult to tell if you have flu or just a cold, as the symptoms can be quite similar. The main differences are:

Flu symptoms:
• come on quickly
• usually include fever and aching muscles
• make you feel too unwell to continue your usual activities

Cold symptoms:
• come on gradually
• mainly affect your nose and throat
• are mild, so you can still get around and are usually well enough to go to work

If you are not sure if you have the flu make an appointment to see your healthcare provider especially if you are over 65, pregnant, have a long-term medical condition or develop chest pain, shortness of breath or start coughing up blood, or if your symptoms are getting worse after one week.
If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away.

Treatment
Usually, you can manage flu symptoms yourself at home and there is no need to see a doctor. Most people feel better within a week. Usually, you will need nothing more than bed rest and plenty of fluids to treat the flu. But, in some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu). If taken soon after you notice symptoms, these drugs may shorten your illness by a day or so and help prevent serious complications.

Home remedies
If you do come down with the flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:
• Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice and warm soups to prevent dehydration.
• Rest. Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection.
• Consider pain relievers. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), to combat the achiness associated with influenza. Do not give aspirin to children or teens because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition.

The flu vaccine
A flu vaccine is available in several countries. It is usually recommended for the following:
• anyone over the age of 65
• pregnant women
• anyone who is very overweight (with a body mass index over 40)
• children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or lung disease)
• children and adults with weakened immune systems
The best time to have the vaccine is between September and early November. If you think you might need it, contact your healthcare provide.
You should have the flu vaccination every year, so you stay protected as the viruses that cause flu change every year.

Controlling the spread of infection
The influenza vaccine is not 100 percent effective, so it is also important to take measures to reduce the spread of infection. These measures include the following:
• Wash your hands. Thorough and frequent hand-washing is an effective way to prevent many common infections. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are not readily available.
• Contain your coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inner crook of your elbow.
• Avoid crowds. Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate — in child care centers, schools, office buildings, auditoriums and public transportation. By avoiding crowds, during peak flu season, you reduce your chances of infection. If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides so that you lessen your chance of infecting others.

Complications of the flu
If you are young and healthy, seasonal influenza usually is not serious. Although you may feel miserable while you have it, the flu usually goes away in a week or two with no lasting effects. But high-risk children and adults may develop complications such as:
• Pneumonia
• Bronchitis
• Asthma flare-ups
• Heart problems
• Ear infections

Pneumonia is the most serious complication. For older adults and people with a chronic illness, pneumonia can be deadly. If you have complications from the flu, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Conclusion
This is the time of the year when some individuals are affected by influenza. This condition is caused by the highly contagious influenza virus. In most healthy individuals the disorder improves in a few days, after making you feel miserable and exhausted. In high risk people, complications can develop, some of which can be deadly. If you have concerns about the flu, see your doctor.

Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.

Dr Brett Hodge MB BS DGO MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty-two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).

anguillian
By anguillian January 29, 2018 09:57 Updated

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