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Influenza Season

Flu shot

Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection. Unlike a cold, which has a slow onset, the onset of the flu may be extremely rapid, and the symptoms more serious. The flu may be mild or severe, and in some cases it may be fatal.

Common symptoms of the flu may include: Chills and/or fever (per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not everyone with the flu will develop a fever), dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, and extreme fatigue/tiredness. Nausea and vomiting may also occur in children with influenza, but is uncommon in adults.

Moderate complications of the flu, such as ear or sinus infections may result. Pneumonia is a more serious complication. The CDC estimates that in 2014, there were 57, 062 deaths in the U.S. attributed to the combination of the flu and pneumonia. Other serious complications may include: Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis), or muscles (myositis or rhabdomyolysis), organ failure (e.g. lung or kidney), or exacerbation of chronic diseases.

Although most people will recover from the flu quickly, usually within a few weeks, certain groups are at higher risk for developing complications. These groups include young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes or other facilities, people who are immune suppressed, and those with certain chronic medical conditions such as chronic lung or heart disease. In addition, anyone employed in a healthcare setting, school, prison, or other facility where there is heightened risk of exposure to infection, should be vigilant in taking precautions against the flu.

If you do develop the flu, treatment includes rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking medication to reduce fever and other flu symptoms. Anti-viral medications, if started within 48 hours of the onset of the flu, may be effective in shortening the duration of the flu.

The “flu season” begins as early as October, usually peaks around January and February, but may extend into May. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. Despite popular belief, the flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus, so it is impossible to get the flu from it. Side effects from the flu vaccine are rare and may include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, or muscle aches, and occasional fainting. Any other symptoms that occur after receiving the flu vaccine should be immediately reported to your doctor. In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, practicing good hygiene techniques, such as frequent handwashing, and avoiding large crowds, if possible, provide additional defense against the flu.

References and Resources

The American Lung Association
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
The Mayo Clinic 
Web MD