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Influenza Facts

Prior to the  modern influenza (flu) vaccination programs, many people would die during epidemics. Fortunately, not many people have died lately because  of the success of these programs. In 2002, for example, only 753 persons died directly from influenza (CDC data; compare this to over 65,000 from pneumonia, some of which might have been triggered by influenza). 

Those at particular risk of dying from influenza ("flu") are the elderly and individuals with chronic conditions affecting the lungs and/or their ability to fight off infections.

Influenza is a viral illness. Viruses have the ability to change/mutate quite readily, hence there are many "strains" of influenza. The two major strains are labeled type A and B. Various subtypes have also been identified and are often tagged with nicknames such as the "Australian Flu".

Scientists track influenza outbreaks around the world. This information is used to predict what flu strains are likely to strike a region, and a vaccine is formulated against the 3 strains that they believe will be most prevalent in the coming flu season. Therefore, the composition of the flu vaccine will differ from year to year.

The flu vaccine (flu shot) is 70-90% effective in persons younger than age 65, and about 50% effective in older individuals. It will protect 85% of the elderly from dying from the flu or itís complications. Even if a vaccinated individual does manage to catch the flu, the symptoms will usually be milder/shorter than had they not received the shot.

YOU CANNOT CATCH INFLUENZA FROM THE VACCINE BECAUSE IT DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY LIVE VIRUS!!! (It contains the protein from killed viruses.) However, while most people receiving the vaccine will not experience any adverse effects, a small percentage of individuals react mildly to any vaccination. These symptoms may include mild fevers and aches. The flu vaccine is cultured from eggs, therefore, those individuals who are allergic to eggs should not receive the flu shot!

Influenza Symptoms and Treatments

Influenza is spread by virus-infected droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air and are then inhaled by the victim. While head congestion/ "cold" symptoms appear with influenza, it is not merely a "bad cold." Rather, flu patients go on to develop fevers, chills, muscle and joint aches, headaches, and fatigue. One of the best descriptions of influenza is the feeling as though had been hit by a truck. Flu victims have no energy whatsoever, often feeling too tired to even get out of bed to see the doctor!  Influenza is a respiratory virus, hence by itself it doesnít generally cause stomach problems such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea.

The typical course lasts between 5-9 days, but may be shorter in normally healthy young people, or much longer if complications (such as bronchitis) develop. Because itís not caused by a bacteria, antibiotics are useless (unless used to treat a complication). There are anti-viral medications available hasten the recovery from influenza, in both oral and nasal forms. These only work if taken within the first 1-2 days of symptoms and do not really kill the virus - they only prevent it from reproducing. The result is a slightly shorter duration of illness.

Best conservative care consists of relative rest, fluids/nutrition, over-the-counter products for symptomatic relief (e.g. Aleve/Advil, Robitussin, etc).

Want to learn more about influenza? Check out the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) web link at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvirus.htm