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Flu (Influenza)

Flu is a term used today to describe a number of different viral infections that affect either the respiratory system or the stomach. Originally, the word "flu" described a single illness, influenza. The two most common types of viruses that cause flu, out of more than a hundred that have been identified, are known as Influenza A and Influenza B.

Flu symptoms appear in full force within a few days of the virus entering your system. Common complaints are fever, chills and shaking, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite. It is not uncommon for your temperature to soar as high as 105 degrees, accompanied by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Usually these symptoms last for two or three days; but they can be followed with a cough, congestion, and a feeling of being totally drained that can last for another week or so. Flu viruses spread the same way cold viruses do, through the air from people coughing and sneezing; through direct contact with people already infected; and through the sharing of unwashed eating and drinking utensils or other objects that someone with the flu has used.

The best precaution to avoid spreading it around, since symptoms do not appear for 3-4 days after infection, is to practice healthy hygiene on an everyday basis: always thoroughly wash dishes and glasses in warm soapy water after every use; wash your hands frequently; and avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth.

Persons at high risk for contracting the flu are the elderly, those with chronic heart or lung disease, and those with weak immune systems. It is especially important to seek professional medical advice quickly if the patient fits the higher-risk profile. Also, any severe case of the flu merits a trip to the doctor.

There is no cure for the flu, but its symptoms can be alleviated with plenty of bed rest and drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration. Water and juices are best; avoid caffeine and alcohol. Also, several over-the-counter remedies can help, too, such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower a fever and reduce muscle aches (aspirin should never to given to children under 16 unless directed by a doctor); antihistamines and decongestants help clear up runny noses and stuffy heads; cough syrups usually provide only temporary relief; and antidiarrheals can help regulate bowel movements.

It is important to consult your physician or pharmacist before using any over-the-counter drugs or treatments. They will be able to advise you on proper usage and can warn you of possible side effects and contraindications.


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