Most of us have suffered a bout of influenza--or the flu--at some point in our life. More than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year with the flu and nearly 36,000 die from its complications during the October to May flu season.
Ruth Kandel, M.D., a geriatrician at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center and chair of its Infection Control Committee, says that most cases of the flu resolve without any further problems, but the illness can sometimes lead to pneumonia and exacerbation of underlying medical conditions. Seniors and people with certain health problems are especially at risk for complications from the flu that are associated with increased rates of hospitalization and death. An annual flu shot is the best protection against the illness and its complications.
An acute, highly contagious respiratory viral illness
- The influenza virus can be transmitted via an infected person's respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
Risk Factors (for complications)
- Age 50 or older
- Residents of nursing homes or chronic-care facilities
- Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart, lung and kidney diseases
- Weakened immune system
- Second or third trimester of pregnancy
- Physical examination
- Diagnostic tests are available for the flu. Although most people do not need to be tested, rapid screening is helpful in determining possible outbreaks in certain places (i.e., long-term care facilities)
- Bed rest
- Fluids to prevent dehydration
- Over-the-counter medications to treat fever, body aches and cough
- Antiviral medications
- Antibiotics (only when there is a secondary bacterial infection)
Antiviral medications - drugs (e.g., neuraminidase inhibitors) that may reduce the severity and duration of influenza when administered within 48 hours of symptom onset.
Pneumonia - a disease of the lungs characterized by inflammation caused by infection or irritants.
Virus - a microscopic agent that causes infectious disease.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - http://www.cdc.gov/
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