January 14, 2000

This Year's Flu Season: No Real Cure Except Time

Chances are you or someone you know has had influenza this year. The influenza virus, or the flu, can begin suddenly and hit hard. It is spread by hand-to-hand contact or by breathing in virus-containing droplets that are sneezed or coughed into the air.

"Flu symptoms may be confused with the common cold but there are distinct differences. With the flu body aches can be so severe that you don't want to get out of bed," according to Rebecca Jaffe, M.D., a family physician and member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "High sudden fever, accompanied by a headache may help to differentiate the flu from the common cold. This year's influenza virus is causing a persistent hacking cough."

Flu symptoms usually last from three to seven days in infants, children and healthy adults. However, coughing or general weakness may last up to three weeks. Consult your doctor right away if you develop a high fever accompanied by a headache, a hacking cough and body aches. All of these symptoms could be signs you have the flu.

"Most people recover without complications, but for some people the flu can lead to bacterial complications like sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia," says Jaffe.

Precautions you and your family should take to avoid catching this year's nasty flu bug:

-- If you smoke, stop and avoid second-hand smoke.

-- Keep facial tissues or a handkerchief handy to cover your nose and mouth when you or another sneezes or coughs.

-- Individuals at high risk may still benefit from a flu shot

-- Call your family physician to see what he or she recommends.

-- Wash your hands frequently using soap.

-- Keep household items used by many family members clean; i.e., telephones, faucets, door handles and toilet handles. (Rubbing alcohol is an inexpensive item to use when cleaning these items.)

Finally, Jaffe urges individuals to, "Keep in mind physicians now have 2-4 treatment options to shorten the duration of the flu."

Rest and stay in bed, especially if you have a fever. Drink plenty of fluids like water and fruit juices to help loosen congestion, and to prevent dehydration. Fluids are especially important if you have a fever, because fever can dry up your body's fluids and lead to dehydration.

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