Influenza is a common, acute, and highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. Symptoms usually appear 24-48 hours after exposure. It is spread by contact with infected individuals. It affects individuals of all ages, but is especially dangerous for the very young, the elderly, and anyone with a chronic illness. The entire respiratory tract is affected. Influenza cannot be cured, but symptoms can be controlled with medications. The flu vaccine, which is offered yearly in the fall, is the best way to prevent influenza, although there can be cases of influenza in patients who did receive the vaccine. A common myth about the vaccine is that it causes the flu. The headaches & low grade fevers that people sometimes get after receiving the vaccine is due to the activation of the immune system, which produces antibodies against the flu. These symptoms are usually mild and much less severe than the actual flu virus. The flu vaccine does not contain live viruses. 

Signs and symptoms include sudden onset of chills and fever (a temperature of 101 F to 104 F), muscle aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, and weakness. These symptoms usually last 3-5 days, with the cough and fatigue lasting longer. Complications of Influenza may include middle ear infections, sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, and Reye’s syndrome. Reye's syndrome is a life threatening illness. 

The best treatment is rest. For discomfort, your doctor may prescribe analgesics & antipyretics, as well as cough syrups and decongestants. It is recommended that you do not give aspirin to a child younger than 16 years because research has shown a link between using aspirin for a viral infection and the development of Reye's syndrome. Some cough medications and decongestants may cause drowsiness. Warm baths or a heating pad may help relieve the muscle aches. A cool-mist vaporizer may help thin secretions, but remember to change the water and clean the unit daily. Gargling with warm salt water or mouthwash may ease the sore throat. There are prescription anti-viral medications available, but these must be taken within the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms in order to be effective.

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