Influenza – Do I have the Flu?

shutterstock_153866126I’ve seen quite a few patients this year who have tested positive for influenza.  Many people have questions about whether they should get the flu shot, or how to treat the infection.

Influenza is also called the flu, and is highly contagious.  It occurs in both children and adults.  It is more common in the winter during “Flu Season” which is generally from about November through March but in 2012 we have seen many flu cases in April.

Spread: Flu is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or touching things that an infected person has previously touched.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year in the United States due to influenza.  Serious illness is more likely in the very young and in older adults, pregnant women or individuals who have chronic medical problems.

Symptoms:  These vary from person to person but some common characteristics are:

1)   Temperature higher than 100 degrees F

2)   Fatigue

3)   Cough and sore throat

4)   Headache and/or muscle aches

The fever usually lasts from 2-5 days.  In most other respiratory infections that cause fever, the fever resolves within 24-48 hours.  Most people who get the flu feel worse than when they have a common cold although the symptoms can be similar.  Usually the fever and aches/chills are the symptoms that cause the most discomfort.

Complications of flu:  Pneumonia is the most common complication.  This is a serious infection of the lungs as is more likely in people over age 65 or individuals who live in long term care facilities (nursing homes) or those with other illnesses such as diabetes or chronic lung or heart problems.

Diagnosis:  We can usually diagnose the influenza in the office by a special Q-tip (swab) that it inserted into the nose and then tests for influenza virus.

Treatment:  Influenza is a virus and the body is able to fight off the virus even without medications in the majority of cases.  The symptoms can be miserable however and many patients are given medications for fever, sore throat, cough or nausea.  Sometimes antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, Relenza, Flumadine or Amantadine can be effective, but this medicine is not very helpful if the symptoms have been present for more than 48 hours.  Antibiotics are not useful for treating influenza because they only work against bacteria.

H1N1 (Swine flu):  A new strain of H1N1 influenza that contains parts of swine, avian and human influenza viruses was first noted in humans in March of 2009 in Mexico.  There were human infections noted around the world until August 2010 and the symptoms of the Swine H1N1 flu virus and treatment for it were generally similar to those of seasonal flu.

Avian (Bird flu):  A strain of influenza virus that originally infected birds such as chickens, ducks and geese has spread to humans and caused several deaths to date, mostly in Asia.  Avian flu has mostly been spread from bird-to-bird and much less from bird-to-human.  Human-to-Human transmission of the bird flu has only rarely occurred.  Most people who have been infected with bird flu have had direct contact with sick or dead birds or recently visited a live poultry market.  No human cases of avian influenza have been found in the US or anywhere else in North America to date.

A great resource for more information on influenza, and about up to date flu activity and surveillance is the Centers for Disease Control:

This document is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual patient.  If you have questions please contact your medical provider.


I hope that you have found this information useful.  Wishing you the best of health,

Scott Rennie, DO



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