Influenza is common in the United States and around the world. In recent years, due to international travel, flu has become pandemic. It's a good idea to get a flu shot if you are in a high-risk group, which includes children and the elderly, among others.

About Influenza

Influenza, which is most commonly called "the flu," is an illness caused by RNA viruses that infect the respiratory tract of many animals, birds, and humans. Typically most individuals have symptoms for about one to two weeks and then recover with no problems. However, compared with most other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold the influenza (flu) infection can cause a more severe illness with a mortality rate (death rate) of about 0.1% of people who are infected with the virus.

Flu Symptoms include:
Mild cases of the flu may seem like common colds. But most cases of the flu can be distinguished from colds because the symptoms (cough, muscle aches and pains, sore throat, fatigue, and headache) are more severe than those of the common cold. Flu symptoms also tend to occur suddenly and include high fevers (temperatures of 101 degrees F or more).

Flu Treatment includes:
Increasing liquid intake, warm showers, and warm compresses, especially in the nasal area, can help to reduce the body aches and reduce nasal congestion. Nasal strips and humidifiers may help reduce congestion, especially while trying to sleep. Some physicians recommend nasal irrigation with saline to further reduces congestion; some recommend nonprescription decongestants. Fever can be treated with over-the counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin and others). Cough can be suppressed by cough drops and over-the-counter cough syrup. If an individual's symptoms at home get worse, their doctor should be notified.

Flu Vaccine:
In the United States, the flu season usually occurs from about November until April. While a vaccine is available to prevent the flu, its effectiveness varies according to the degree of match between the viral strains used to prepare the vaccine and those strains actually in circulation in a given year. Not everyone receives the flu vaccine, and even some of those who do can develop symptoms of the flu. The flu vaccine is specifically recommended for those who are at high risk for developing serious complications as a result of influenza infection.

These high-risk groups for conventional flu include all people aged 65 years or older and people of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lung, or kidneys; diabetes; immunosuppression; or severe forms of anemia. Each year, the vaccine is updated to include the most current influenza virus strains that are infecting people worldwide. The fact that influenza viral genes continually change is one of the reasons that the vaccine must be taken every year. Another reason is that antibody produced by the host in response to the vaccine declines over time, and antibody levels are often low one year after vaccination.

Usually, doctor offices, local pharmacies, grocery stores and many other businesses offer flu shots (some for free!), so be sure to take advantage of these convenient options!

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