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The flu

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C. A. V. Nogueira, M.D. |
fluThe flu or influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu causes mild to severe illness, and in some cases it can end with death.


In average, 5% - 20% percent of population get the flu every year. Some parts of the population, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a seasonal flu vaccination each year.

There is some misunderstanding what is the flu and what is the common cold. Those are respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Since those two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult or even impossible to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can be carried out, when needed to tell if a person has the flu.

Speaking in general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

The main way that influenza viruses spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose before washing their hands.

Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately, but importantly these items should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Linens should be washed by using household laundry soap and tumbled dry on a hot setting Individuals should wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub immediately after handling dirty laundry. Eating utensils should be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

There are several myths about flu vaccination but fortunately those are just myths. Firstly, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are killed, that means they cannot cause infection. Secondly, the most common side effect of seasonal flu shots in adults has been soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days. The soreness is often caused by a person’s immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine.

Thirdly, someone may get flu-like symptoms after they have been vaccinated against seasonal flu. That doesn't mean that vaccine is not good. One may be exposed to influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or a person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is very different from the viruses included in the vaccine.

Influenza usually starts suddenly and you may have one or several of the following symptoms: usually high fever, headache, tiredness (that can be extreme), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, and diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children).

What to do if you have the flu? The best possible advice is - go and see the doctor. Many think that five or six days in bad with warm tea are enough but it's on the doctor to say do you have the flu or some other illness with very similar symptoms. And the best advice of them all would be - do not take medicine by yourself, you can promote a harmless condition to a deadly disease.

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