1. What is influenza?
Influenza is a virus that is spread person-to-person by respiratory droplets or secretions, such as in a sneeze or cough. The flu is a very contagious virus which can affect one-fifth of the world's population each year.
2. What are the symptoms and complications of influenza?
Symptoms of the flu include body aches, fever, fatigue, sore throat, cough and/or headache.
Complications can be life threatening, and 10 percent of deaths in the United States are related to them each year. The most common complication is pneumonia. Individuals at greatest risk for complications are the very young, elderly, those with other medical conditions such as diabetes, lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or people who live in places such as nursing homes.
3. How is influenza diagnosed?
The diagnosis of influenza is based on the clinical symptoms listed above. There are also rapid diagnostic tests which are used when anti-viral medications are a consideration. A viral culture can also be used to track community outbreaks.
4. How is influenza treated?
Influenza treatment is usually supportive, meaning controlling the symptoms. Hydration is very important, so fluid intake should be adequate to maintain clear urine. Rest until the symptoms have resolved completely. Take cough suppressants, analgesics such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to alleviate body aches, headache and fever. Aspirin should be avoided in children under the age of 18 to prevent Rye syndrome.
Anti-viral therapy can be initiated if the diagnosis is made within 72 hours of symptom onset, and is usually reserved for individuals with a high risk of complications.
5. How is influenza prevented?
As with any contagious illness, proper hand washing is extremely important in prevention. Washing your hands with an antibacterial soap for at least 15 to 30 seconds using warm water should be sufficient. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be used.
Because the virus is spread through respiratory droplets, infected individuals should cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched like sinks and door knobs to prevent spreading the virus. Last, but not least, do not go back to work or school until you have not had a fever for 24 hours without any fever lowering medications, such as ibuprofen.
Along with infection control measures, the influenza vaccine is the best method of prevention. There are two types of vaccines, a muscular injection and a nasal spray. Certain individuals who have immune-compromised conditions or chronic medical problems should not receive the nasal spray, since it is a live vaccine.
The vaccine is usually given in October and November, and is based on the previous year's flu viruses in other parts of the world. The vaccine will prevent the flu in up to 60 percent of vaccinated people.
Dr. Laurie Marbas is a family physician at Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle.