Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. Symptoms are usually sudden and include fever, dry cough (that may last more than two weeks), headache, myalgia (severe fatigue) and sore throat. In children, it is also common for symptoms to include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Flu season usually lasts from September to May, peaking in January.
Influenza strains mutate over time creating the need for a new seasonal influenza vaccine each year. Vaccines are offered as a live attenuated (weakened virus) nasal spray or inactivated (killed virus) flu shot. Available in late August early September, it is recommended for all age groups older than 6 months. However, the nasal spray is only suggested for healthy individuals age 2-49.
Antibiotics are not an effective treatment because the flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria. Antivirals can be used to manage the flu, but they must be started within 48 hours of symptom onset. Relief from symptoms can often be achieved through rest and the use of over the counter medications such as decongestants and fever reducers. Complications are rare in young healthy adults, but elderly and immune compromised persons have an increased risk for complications such as pneumonia.
The flu is most commonly spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing aerosolized droplets containing viral particles. When the viral particles are inhaled or encounter the nose, throat or lungs the opportunity for disease occurs. To avoid the spread of disease:
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow and wash your hands frequently.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when a sink is not available.
- When sick, avoid crowds and try to stay home.
- Vaccination remains the best method of prevention.
H1N1 (previously labeled the Swine Flu), was the cause of a global pandemic in the 2009-2010 flu season. That year, a separate vaccine was made available for this strain of influenza. Since that time, the World Health Organization International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has declared an end to the global pandemic. The vaccine proved to be highly effective and was included in the seasonal vaccine for 2010-2011.
Useful External Links
- CDC: Cold vs. Flu
- CDC: H1N1
- CDC: Seasonal Influenza: The disease
- eWashtenaw.org: Statistics and facts about influenza in Washtenaw County
- Flu.gov: Information on Symptoms and Treatment