(50PlusPrime) ORION, MICHIGAN --Tis the season. Families gather together, parties occur in every work place and galas are as common as corn in August. Yep. 'Tis the season.....for the flu, that is.
All those 'get togethers' in warm, cozy settings give the flu bug a wonderful opportunity to find a new home with every handshake, turn of the door knob, and sneeze. Those nieces, nephews, and adorable toddlers that haven't been seen in months are walking bacterial and virus cultures. But, which one of us can ignore those darling little arms out-stretched for a hug, even if the kid does have a runny nose.
Within 1 to 4 days after a sweet family get together, we noticed that we don't feel so well. We ache all over, are too tired to do the dishes and just want to find a warm bed in which to retreat. Within a day we are suffering from a headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose and fever. STaying in bed is no longer an option - it is a necessity. We have become a victim of the flu.
The flu is so common that we take it for granted. While we are aware that it can be deadly, it is extremely unusual for a young adult to know anyone who has died of the flu. Those who are 65 or older or have a chronic disease seek a flu shot every year to keep the flu at bay. Our society has come to believe that the flu can be managed.
Influenza (the flu) is caused by highly contagious viruses of either A, B or C strains. Strains B and C cause mild disease while A srain Influenza accounts for the most serious illness. All strains can mutate, which is why last year's flu shot will not be affective against this year's flu.
Extremely severe influenza, which can cause massive numbers of deaths, as occurred with the 1918 flu, are generally caused by brand new viruses against which the body has no defense. Presently in Asia, a new type A flu called AVian Flu is on the cusp of emerging as the next Pandemic (or world wide) flu. The World Health Organization has convened a group of scientists from around the world to address this chicken flu that has suddenly jumped to humans. Already, many deaths attributed to Avian flu have occurred in Viet Nam and Thailand.
Because the flu is so contagious, it is hard to avoid getting it, but there are ways to protect oneself. It is important to use good hygiene during this season, including washing hands frequently, covering one's mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and, most importantly, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth since the flu gains entry into the body through the mucus membranes. Flu is spread most effectively through coughing and sneezing because the aerosol that results contains large amounts of the virus that are then inhaled by unsuspecting victims
By the time the first minor symptoms of the flu develop, the person infected is already highly contagious and will remain so for 5 days after illness onset. Children can be infectious for more than 10 days while immunocompromised persons can shed viruses for week or months.1
Treatment for the flu includes bedrest, drinking lots of fluids and avoiding alcohol and smoking. Medical treatment should be sought for persistant vomiting and diarrhea, dizziness, confusion, difficulty breathing or chest pressure and pain. Antivirals can be prescribed to shorten the course of the flu.
Most importantly, flu victims should not attempt to ignore their symptoms thinking that they can 'tough it out.' Not only do they infect countless others, but they put their own health at high risk. Pericarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart), myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and encephalopathy (pathology within the brain) are complications that can occur in people who have chosen to 'work through' their flu symptoms.
The flu does have an 'up-side'. There is some speculation in the medical community that those who have suffered through the flu have a lower incidence of auto-immune diseases such as arthritis. The reason for this phenomena is not entirely understood.
This year promises to have a mild flu season. Considering that flu vaccine has been difficult to obtain, that will prove to be a blessing. Let us hope that we escape the 'bug' this year.
1. CDC Clinical Description and Diagnosis. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/diagnosis/
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