Influenza (commonly called "the flu") is an acute, contagious, respiratory tract infection, which is caused by one of the flu viruses. Outbreaks of the flu happen nearly every winter, with varying severity. Most outbreaks occur between October and May, with peak intensity from late December through early March.
The severity of flu symptoms depends on the type of flu virus and the age and health of the patient. The flu may produce no symptoms, mild-to-severe symptoms, or fatal illness. Consequently, a person with the flu may experience any or all of the following symptoms: Chills, moderate to high fever (101-103 F), sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, cough, diarrhea and dizziness.
According to Amy Kenney, Longs Drugs pharmacist, the best over-the-counter medication to have on hand to treat flu symptoms is Tylenol.
"It helps with muscle aches, headaches, fever," said Kenney. "But of course with any illness and the elderly, you have to be careful with medications.
"I wouldn't recommend the elderly to use any over-the-counter medication, especially while taking other medications like medications for hypertension, diabetes or heart disease. And always to check with their physician before self-medicating."
Those recommended for the flu vaccine include: 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; and children 6 months or older with respiratory disorders.
Viruses that cause the flu spread primarily from person to person, especially by coughing and sneezing (via airborne droplets of respiratory fluids). After a person has been infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within 2-4 days. The infection is considered contagious for another 3-4 days after symptoms appear.
When you have the flu your body's ability to fight off other infections is lowered and other more serious infections can occur, especially pneumonia. It is very important for older people to prevent getting the flu because treating it can be harder as people age. People 50 and older should get a flu shot every year.
Those who should not get the vaccine include those with an allergy to eggs, those that have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, women who are pregnant (or think they might be), or those not feeling well at the time.
It is easy to confuse a common cold with the flu. But a cold usually doesn't cause a fever - the flu does. Also, a cold causes a stuffy nose more often than the flu does. Overall, cold symptoms are milder and don't last as long as the flu.
There are also newer medications available to treat flu symptoms - Flumadine and Amantadine - but they must be administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. When used in time, they are 70-90 percent effective in treating the flu and can shorten the duration by about two days. Amantadine is also 70-90 percent effective when used as a preventative.
"All people over the age of 65 need to get the flu shot. More people die from the flu than from HIV. This year, 300,000 people will be hospitalized for the flu; 25,000 will die."