Influenza, or the “flu,” is a respiratory virus that infects the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, cough and difficulty breathing. Although some people with the flu have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, these are not common symptoms. The flu usually occurs between October and April of each year and is very contagious spreading from person to person by coughing, sneezing or talking. Many viruses cause similar symptoms but flu tends to be more severe and prolonged.
Every year in the United States approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 die from complications of influenza infection. The elderly, children under the age of two, people with chronic medical conditions that affect their ability to fight infections (such as diabetes, cancer, immune deficiency, asthma and heart disease), and those on immune suppressing medications are most at risk for serious complications and hospitalization from the flu.
Because influenza is a virus, it can’t be successfully treated with antibiotics. Therefore, it is important to try to prevent the flu. This is best accomplished by vaccination. Since the flu virus changes from year to year, it is necessary to receive vaccine every year to be protected. The vaccine will prevent moderate to severe disease in 70-90% of people who receive it. The vaccine is especially important in children, even healthy children with no risk factors. In 2003-2004, 152 children died from influenza; many were previously healthy and not in a high risk group. Additionally, people over 65 are most likely to catch the flu from young children so protecting the children has the added benefit of preventing deaths in the elderly. The flu shot is very safe. It is made from completely inactivated viruses and cannot possibly cause the flu. Some side effects include pain, redness or tenderness at the site of injection, muscle aches and low grade fever. Our office uses the injectible flu vaccine. A nasal spray form of the vaccine is available for healthy people ages 5-49 and may be available through the health department and some pharmacies.