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The Flu ~ [Issue 0100-1]  Wellness Weekly
 Jan 05, 2000 12:40 PST 

Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by viruses that
infect the respiratory tract. Compared with most other viral
respiratory infections, such as the common cold, influenza infection
often causes a more severe illness. Typical clinical features of
influenza include fever (usually 100 degrees F to 103 degrees F in
adults and often even higher in children) and respiratory symptoms,
such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as
headache, muscle aches, and often extreme fatigue. Although nausea,
vomiting, and diarrhea can sometimes accompany influenza infection,
especially in children, gastrointestinal symptoms are rarely
prominent. The term "stomach flu" is a misnomer that is sometimes
used to describe gastrointestinal illnesses caused by other microorganisms.

Viruses that cause flu spread primarily from person to person,
especially by coughing and sneezing (via airborne droplets of
respiratory fluids). Flu viruses can enter the body through the
mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. After a person has been
infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within 2 to 4 days.
The infection is considered contagious for another 3 to 4 days after
symptoms appear. The greatest risk of infection is in highly
populated areas, where people live in crowded conditions, and in
schools. Isolating people with flu symptoms is not an effective means
of disease control because flu can be spread by someone whose
symptoms are not yet apparent.

Most people who get the flu recover completely in 1 to 2 weeks, but
some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical
complications, such as pneumonia. In an average year, influenza is
associated with about 20,000 deaths in the United States and many
more hospitalizations. Flu-related complications can occur at any
age; however, the elderly and people with chronic health problems are
much more likely to develop serious complications after influenza
infection than are younger, healthier people.

Once a person has the flu, treatment usually consists of resting in
bed, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking medication such as aspirin
or acetaminophen to relieve fever and discomfort. Children with flu
should not take aspirin. This is because a neurologic disease known
as "Reye’s Syndrome" sometimes develops in a small number of children
and adolescents who are recovering from flu. Antibiotics are not
effective against flu viruses.

The drug rimantadine can be used to treat influenza type A virus
infections in adults. It has no effect on influenza type B
infections. When taken within 48 hours after the onset of illness, it
reduces the duration of fever and other symptoms and allows flu
sufferers to return to their daily routines more quickly. Rimantadine
is a derivative of the drug amantadine, which also can prevent and
treat flu infection. Amantadine, however, is more likely to cause
side effects such as lightheadedness and inability to sleep more
often than is rimantadine.

People in the following categories should ask their physicians about
receiving vaccine each year to protect against flu.

1. High-Risk Groups:

- All individuals aged 65 years or older.
- People with chronic cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic
disorders (including diabetes).
- Those with renal dysfunction, anemia, immunosuppression, or asthma.
- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.
- Children receiving long-term aspirin therapy who may be at risk of
developing Reye’s syndrome following influenza infection.
- Children 6 months or older with respiratory disorders.

2. Health-Care Workers:

- Those who provide in-home care to high-risk patients.
- Medical-care personnel with extensive patient contact.
- In addition, physicians should administer vaccine to any
individuals who want to reduce their chances of acquiring influenza.
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