The flu is a viral infection that strikes the entire body with a vengeance. The misery starts suddenly with chills and fever and spirals into more unpleasant symptoms that will take you out of commission: a sore throat, dry cough, stuffy or runny nose, headache (especially behind the eyes), severe muscle aches and pains, weakness, backache, and loss of appetite. Some people even experience pain and stiffness in the joints.
Flu is a highly contagious illness, spread by droplets from the respiratory tract of an infected person. These droplets can be airborne, such as those released after a person coughs or sneezes, or they can be transferred via an infected person's hands.
The worst of your symptoms will last about three to five days, but others, such as cough and fatigue, can linger for weeks. And a bout with the flu can deliver a double whammy if you develop a secondary infection, such as an ear or sinus infection or bronchitis. Even pneumonia can be a complication -- and a potentially serious one -- of influenza.
Who's at risk?
As far as who gets the flu, it seems to occur initially in children. Absenteeism in schools soars, as does the number of kids admitted to hospitals with respiratory illnesses. The infection quickly spreads to adults, who also begin filling hospital beds, sometimes with pneumonia or worsening of heart or lung conditions.
The change in flu strains from year to year also makes it hard to develop 100 percent effective flu vaccines. The shot in the arm you receive to guard against the flu is typically effective against the previous year's flu strain as well as the strain(s) researchers predict will hit during the coming flu season, but it likely cannot fight new strains that may evolve. Still, flu vaccines manage to be about 80 percent effective when received before the flu season begins (ideally in September or October). So, if you really can't afford to get sick, a flu shot may not be a bad idea. And, if you fall into a high-risk group, a flu shot is a priority.
When to See a Doctor About the Flu
Signs that it's time to see your doctor include a high fever that lasts more than three days, a cough that persists or gets worse (especially if associated with severe chest pain or shortness of breath), or a general inability to recover. These things could signal a secondary bacterial infection that would need to be treated with prescription antibiotics. If you have underlying lung or heart disease, consult your physician at the first sign of the flu.
Once you have the flu, it can really take put you out of commission. On the next page, we will look at the first of 14 home remedies to relieve those aches and pains.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.