The term “flu” is short for the name influenza. Influenza is a viral infection of the human respiratory system. The influenza virus infects the nose, throat and lungs causing the infected person to feel very ill.
There are many strains of flu viruses, and they can change their structure over time. Usually, there are one or two major strains going around per year. Although people use the term “stomach flu,” that is a different virus that affects the gastrointestinal system causing cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The influenza virus is spread by aerosolized droplets that can be breathed in from an infected person’s sneeze or a cough. It can also be transmitted by touching objects with droplets on them and then touching your eyes or mouth.
- fever over 101 F
- significant muscle aches, especially of the upper trunk
- stuffy nose
For most patients, the flu will resolve without problems or complications. Unfortunately, in certain people who may be immunocompromised, the flu can be life threatening. This group includes babies, elderly or anyone else who may be immunocompromised or may have a chronic illness, or be pregnant.
Also, certain strains of the flu can cause more of a serious health problem than others. If you suspect that you may have the flu, contact your doctor for detailed instructions. In general one may drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest and use pain relievers (Tylenol and ibuprofen) if needed. Aspirin should not be used in younger people with flu-like symptoms to avoid a rare and fatal disease called Reye’s syndrome.
Complications of the flu may include:
- asthma flare-ups
- ear infections
There are prescription medications that will lessen the severity or shorten the course of the flu, or decrease the chance of long-term complications.
Prescription flu medications include:
These medications can have side effects, so discuss with your doctor if they would be an appropriate choice for you if needed.
- Hand washing is one of the most important things to do to prevent the transmission of illness. Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid large gatherings of people during flu season. The flu can spread in droplets of water, like from a sneeze.
- Cover your cough and sneezes to prevent transmission. Be sure to cover with your elbow and not your hand.
Doctors recommend getting a flu vaccination for all people over the age of six months. Vaccination needs to be repeated every year/flu season as the vaccine contains protection against the most likely flu virus for the upcoming season. The flu vaccine comes in both an injection/shot form or nasal spray. Ask your doctor which is best for you, but the important thing for your health and family’s health is to make sure everyone gets vaccinated. Make the call today!
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.
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