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Influenza

Also called the grippe or the flu, influenza is an acute, highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract.

Although it affects all age-groups, the highest incidence occurs in school-age children. The greatest severity is in young children, elderly people, and those with chronic diseases. In these groups, influenza may even lead to death.

Influenza occurs sporadically or in epidemics (usually during the colder months). Epidemics usually peak within 2 to 3 weeks after initial cases and last 2 to 3 months.

Causes

Influenza virus has the ability to mutate into different forms. That is why although you were exposed to similar strains in the past, you might not be able to defend yourself against a new one. The infection is transmitted by inhaling a respiratory droplet from an infected person or by indirect contact, such as drinking from a contaminated glass.

Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of flu include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults

Diagnostic tests

At the beginning of an influenza epidemic, many patients are misdiagnosed with other respiratory disorders. Because signs and symptoms of influenza aren't pathognomonic, isolation of the influenza virus through inoculation of chicken embryos (with nasal secretions from infected patients) is essential at the first sign of an epidemic. In addition, nose and throat cultures and increased serum antibody titers help confirm the diagnosis.

When an epidemic is confirmed, diagnosis requires only observation of clinical signs and symptoms. Uncomplicated cases show decreased white blood cells with an increase in lymphocytes.

Treatment

The patient with uncomplicated influenza needs bed rest, adequate fluid intake, acetaminophen or aspirin relieve fever and muscle pain (children should only recevie acetaminophen), and guaifenesin or another expectorant to relieve nonproductive coughing. Prophylactic antibiotics aren't recommended; they have no effect on the influenza virus.

The antiviral agent amantadine has effectively reduced the duration of influenza A infection. In influenza complicated by pneumonia, the patient needs supportive care (fluid and electrolyte replacements, oxygen, and assisted ventilation) and treatment of bacterial superinfection with appropriate antibiotics. No specific therapy exists for cardiac, central nervous system, or other complications.

Prevention
  1. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.
  2. Stay away as much as you can from people who are sick.
  3. If you get influenza, stay home from work or school. If you are sick, don't go near other people to avoid infecting them.
  4. Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs often spread this way.
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