A and B
What is it?
Influenza is a viral infection that causes a flu-like
illness of varying severity. It is caused by exposure
to the Influenza A or B virus and results in a cough,
sore throat, fever and feeling tired. . Most cases of
influenza occur in the winter months but can occur as
early as the end of summer and as late as the end of
winter. Viral strains can change, making the flu season
worse in some years than others.
In the U.S., according
to the Center for Disease Control, about 10-20% of the
population will get Influenza A or B every year, requiring
200,000 hospital admissions. If a case of influenza
is especially severe, complications such as sinus infections,
ear infections, bronchitis or pneumonia can occur. About
20,000 deaths occur annually.People who are older, in
poor health or have problems with their immune systems
are more likely to develop influenza and have complications
from a case of influenza.
such as mucous or droplets from a sneeze transmit the
influenza virus. The incubation period, or the time
between exposure and feeling sick, is between 18 hours
and three days. You can transmit the virus before you
are feeling sick, and viral shedding continues for a
few days after you are feeling better.
Symptoms of influenza
include sore throat, runny nose, aches and pains, headache,
eye discomfort, cough, chest pain and labored breathing.
Most people notice a sudden onset of these symptoms.
People usually report a fever which can sometime be
very high, and may be accompanied by chills. Feeling
very tired or run down is common. Because they share
many of the same symptoms, influenza is often confused
with the common cold. Although several viruses other
than influenza also cause colds, they are not as severe.
How is Influenza
Most doctors evaluate the clinical symptoms of their
patients to determine if the have influenza. After asking
you about how and when your illness started and what
kind of symptoms you’re having, you’ll be
examined. In most cases, the history and physical exam
findings will allow your doctor to eliminate other possible
causes of your illness and make a diagnosis.
If it’s not clear,
a viral culture can be taken, or a rapid test can be
done to see if there are Influenza A or B viruses present.
Your doctor will use a swab to take a sample of the
material in your nose for these tests. Viral cultures
take 3-7 days for results, so this test is not used
very often. Rapid tests, which take about 30 minutes,
are about 70-80% accurate. If your doctor needs more
information, blood tests or a chest X-ray might be needed.
How is Influenza treated?
For most people supportive care is all that’s
needed. That means bed rest, lots of fluids and over-the-counter
medications to take care of aches and pains, high fevers,
sore throats and runny noses. Within five to seven days,
the majority of people are feeling better.
Medications can reduce
the severity and duration of symptoms of influenza.
Amatidine and rimantidine are effective against influenza
A. Oseltamvir and zanamvir are effective against both
influenza A and B. These drugs are most effective when
taken within a few hours of noticing symptoms, but must
be taken within 24-40 hours or they will not have a
significant effect. Because they are very costly, most
doctors prescribe them for people with other medical
conditions that make it harder to fight the illness.
If you are experiencing
problems like dehydration, coughing up blood, difficulty
breathing, duration of longer than a week, or notice
a return of symptoms after a few days, go back to see
How can Influenza
Because influenza is transmitted through respiratory
secretions, frequent hand washing can be very helpful
in reducing your exposure to influenza viruses. People
who have influenza should always use tissues when sneezing
or wiping runny noses, and also wash their hands before
touching communal items.
A vaccine for Influenza
A and B is available. You’ll need to get a new
vaccination each year because the strains of Influenza
virus can change slightly from year to year. It takes
two weeks or so for the vaccine to become effective,
and studies show that it can reduce the development
of influenza by 90%. Check with your docter on the best
time to take this vaccine.
Recently an inhaled
vaccine has become available. It’s equally as
effectiveness as the injectable vaccine and approved
for people between 5 and 54 years old. People occasionally
report having a mid runny nose, sore throat or headache
after the inhaled version of the vaccine. Kids may also
have some vomiting.
For people who did not
get a flu shot, taking the oral flu medications (amatidine,
rimantidine, oseltamvir or zanamvir), used to treat
influenza has been shown to prevent the illness. The
recommended preventative dosage is half of the usual
Are there side
The most common side effect from influenza
shots is soreness and redness at the vaccination site.
Some people experience aches or fever that may last
a day or two.
Who should be
vaccinated, and when?
According to the CDC, there are several groups of people
who should get a flu shot every year. (Please contact
your doctor for information whether you need to take
- People who are at an increased
risk of complications, such as
- Elderly people (>65)
- People who live in nursing homes
- People with poor immune systems
or chronic illnesses
- Pregnant women
- People with compromised respiratory
- Adults between 54 and 65
- More commonly have multiple medical
- Healthcare workers
- In contact with people who are
vulnerable to flu complications.
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