Influenza: Symptoms, the vaccine, and how to treat it

~ By Theresa A.V. Donati, M.D., New West Physicians ~

Influenza season is upon us. This is a highly contagious disease, caused by influenza A or B viruses that are spread easily from person to person by coughing or sneezing. You will usually have to be in close contact (within six feet) of someone who is ill to become infected.  It occurs more in the winter months due to more time spent in close contact (indoors) with contaminated people.

Flu symptoms usually include a fever higher than 100¡F, intense headaches, severe muscle aches, fatigue, non-productive cough, nasal discharge, and sore throat, after an incubation period of one to four days.  These symptoms may last from five days to a week or more.  Some people will develop post influenza weakness and fatigue which may last several weeks.  This is different from a viral upper respiratory infection or common cold which rarely is associated with high fever, headache, or exhaustion. A common cold can be associated with a mild to moderate cough whereas influenza is usually associated with a very severe dry cough and chest congestion.

You should seek medical attention if you have shortness of breath or trouble breathing, pressure in your chest or stomach, dizziness when standing, confusion, uncontrollable vomiting or inability to stay hydrated.

Treat flu symptoms with rest, fluids, and acetaminophen to relieve the fever, headache, and muscle aches. Antiviral medications like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can be used to treat or prevent the flu if you are seen within the first 48 hours of your flu symptoms. This may reduce your flu symptoms by about one day. Antibiotics are generally not useful for treating viral illnesses like influenza unless you have a complication such as pneumonia, ear infection or sinusitis. Complications are more likely in those considered at high risk, such as those with chronic medical problems or who are immune compromised.

When in doubt, see a medical professional. Most importantly, remember to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with antibacterial soaps or use gel hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of influenza, and get your flu shot every year.  The quadrivalent influenza vaccine is now available in our clinics. The standard trivalent vaccine, used in previous years, was effective 60-70% of the time.  The quadrivalent vaccine which includes two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B should decrease the cases of influenza for the upcoming season.

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