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Influenza Facts

What is Influenza?

Influenza, or more commonly referred to as the flu, is a serious, infectious, viral respiratory disease. Cases of influenza occur all year round, but most cases occur during December through April.

How is Influenza spread?

The virus is spread from the nose and throat of infected persons by droplet secretions to the nose and throat of other people. If susceptible, those people can also become infected and develop symptoms of illness. An adult can spread influenza anytime from 24 hours before, up to 5 days after showing symptoms; children may be able to transmit the virus to others for as long as seven or more days after showing symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Influenza?

Within one to four days after being exposed to influenza, a susceptible person will typically experience an abrupt onset of fever, cough and/or sore throat, headache, chills and muscle aches; symptoms usually do not include vomiting and diarrhea. Most people also just generally feel very sick, weak and tired. The illness usually resolves after several days, although coughing and weakness can persist for several weeks. If a person has other medical conditions, such as lung or heart disease, they may develop secondary bacterial, or primary viral pneumonia.

How is Influenza diagnosed?

Practitioners commonly diagnose influenza based upon clinical symptoms. Swabs of nasal secretions may be tested by rapid antigen tests, which can determine whether influenza is present.  Secretions from the nose and throat may also be tested by culture. Testing of positive cultures can reveal the type of influenza present, A, or B, and the strain. This information can be used to determine the contents needed for annual vaccines.

What is the treatment for Influenza?

Antibiotics do not work on viruses. A practitioner may prescribe antiviral drugs, which may help lessen the duration and severity of influenza disease. Practical treatments consist of getting plenty of rest and increasing fluid intake. Taking over the counter medications for cough, pain relief, fever reduction, congestion and antihistamine may provide some relief for certain individuals while the illness runs its course.

How can Influenza be prevented?

The primary method of preventing influenza illness (and its more severe complications) is by obtaining the influenza vaccine each year. During the influenza season, avoid exposure to others who are sick with influenza and cold symptoms as much as possible. Get optimal amounts of rest and exercise, and eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet daily. One of the simplest ways to prevent illness is to wash your hands before meals, and especially after encounters with those who are sick. Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes and mouth, which are points of entry for germs. If you become sick with influenza, prevent spreading the virus to others by staying home, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, and immediately disposing of tissues properly, followed by washing your hands. Remember to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

What is Pandemic Influenza?

Pandemic influenza is a worldwide occurrence of a new type of flu. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks or "epidemics" of influenza. Seasonal outbreaks are caused by subtypes of influenza viruses that are already in existence among people, whereas pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes or by subtypes that have never circulated among people or that haven't circulated for a long time. To cause a pandemic, a new type of flu:

  • spreads easily from person to person
  • causes serious illness
  • is a kind of flu that few people are immune to

Pandemic flu has occurred naturally throughout history. There have been four pandemics in the last 100 years:

  • 1918 - 1919: "Spanish flu"
  • 1957 - 1958: "Asian flu"
  • 1968 - 1969: "Hong Kong flu"
  • 2010: Novel Influenza A H1N1

Pandemics are unpredictable. It is hard to know when one will occur, what type of flu it will be and how severe it will be. A flu pandemic could cause many deaths and severe illnesses. It could also disrupt some parts of daily life and limit the amount of health and other services available. Gatherings of people might be limited to control the spread of the disease. Schools and businesses may close, sporting events could be cancelled and transportation could be limited. In addition, hospitals could be overloaded. Doctors and nurses could become sick. There could be more people with the flu that hospitals could take in. Some people would need to be cared for in their homes or other places.

Protecting the public against a pandemic is a challenge. Large amounts of vaccine may need to be manufactured. The vaccine cannot be made until the virus for the pandemic is identified. It may take months to make adequate vaccine amounts for everyone and vaccination against other types of flu will not provide protection.

What is Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)?

Avian influenza or bird flu is an infection caused by bird flu viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds and they carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, bird flu is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys very sick and kill them.

 

Last Updated 9/30/2010
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