Influenza 101, by Brian Senger, MD


Although the flu is a rather common illness, during its peak season from November through February, it can also be a very serious illness. Complications from the flu result in approximately 20,000 deaths annually in the United States alone. These complications include pneumonia, bacterial infection and sinus infection. While it is usually the elderly who develop complications, no one is immune. Because different strains of influenza virus are present each year, it’s possible to get the virus every year. That’s also why it’s necessary to get a flu vaccine every year.
The flu vaccine is 70-80% effective in protecting you from the flu. But with all of the illnesses out there, how do you know if you have the flu and what can you do about it? Flu symptoms differ from those of the common cold. If you are suffering from the following symptoms, you may have the flu: sudden onset of symptoms, high fever/chills, headache, severe muscle aches, sore throat and dry cough. It usually takes 2-5 days for the symptoms to disappear. To minimize your discomfort, make sure you get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take a non-aspirin pain reliever for fever and aches.
If you visit your doctor within 48 hours of the onset of influenza, he or she  may elect to treat you with an antiviral medication called amantidine, oseltamivir, or ramantidine. This will only decrease the duration of the illness by a day or so and does have the possible side effects of dizziness and decreased concentration. If you and your doctor decide on the antiviral medication, be sure to let him or her  know if you have kidney disease. This will affect the dosage.
Fortunately, there is a bright spot in all of this! The influenza vaccine may help prevent loss of work days and other complications and is available in the late summer and fall.  Make sure you get your annual flu shot early so that your body has the time to develop the antibodies to fight off influenza. And remember,
Prevention is the best medicine!