TTUHSC West Texas Influenza Center
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Seasonal Influenza Information

Background

Influenza, or “the flu”, is an infection caused by a virus.  It can be spread through the air by sneezing or coughing or by close person-to-person contact. It is more common in the fall and winter months, and is usually thought of as a “bad cold”. The flu can be dangerous in certain people such as the elderly, newborn babies, and people with chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems. Most healthy people, however, will recover without any major complications after one or two weeks.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of the flu can come on suddenly and generally are more severe than the common cold. Here is a list of some common signs and symptoms:

  • High fever (usually 100°F to 102°F)
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue/Weakness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

Some other symptoms may include stuffy nose, sneezing, red or watery eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Treatment

Treatment for influenza is mainly supportive.  Most healthy persons with the flu can be treated successfully with rest, fluids and acetaminophen as needed for fever. There are, however, some antiviral antibiotics that may affect the duration and severity of infection. These are more useful in those at risk of complications.  Common antiviral antibiotics that can be offered include amantidine, ramantidine, oseltamavir and zanamavir. Some recent strains of influenza have developed resistance to some of these antibiotics, and have made the drug treatment of influenza more complicated. Your doctor will decide which is best for you depending on your age and medical conditions. Antiviral antibiotics are most useful if started within the first 2 days that symptoms begin, Typically, they are taken for 5 - 7 days. If taken this way, they may reduce the length of your illness by 1-2 days and can help make you less contagious to other people.

Prevention

The best way to keep from getting the flu is to get a flu vaccine. Receiving a yearly flu vaccine during the months of October to November will reduce the chances of getting the flu. There are two ways to get the vaccine, by a shot or by using a nasal spray. The vaccine works by exposing your body to an inactivated form of the flu virus. Your body then builds up protection against the flu. Each year the flu vaccine contains 3 different strains of the virus. While these three strains are usually the most common ones seen, the vaccine is not 100% effective because there are other strains not covered that can still cause you to get the flu. However, if persons get the flu after being vaccinated, they will often have much milder symptoms. The flu vaccine is safe and has very few side effects. There may be some soreness at the injection site. In some people,  low fever, tiredness and muscle aches occur for a short period of time. After the nasal spray flu vaccine, some people have a runny nose or headache.  It is essential to note that people cannot get the flu from either of the flu vaccines.  People who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu vaccine, as they may have an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

Another important way to prevent getting the flu is to practice good respiratory hygiene.   This includes washing hands frequently with soap and water, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with anyone that has a cold.

For more information about influenza you can visit the following sites.

  1. www.cdc.gov/flu/
  2. www.dshs.state.tx.us/txflu/default.shtm
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