Influenza - what is a person to do?

Influenza, more commonly known as "the flu," is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times, can lead to death. Each year in the U.S., an average of 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and approximately 36,000 people die from flu. Some people are at a higher risk for serious flu complications such as the elderly, young children and people with certain health conditions.

Symptoms of flu include high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are much more common among children than adults. Some of the complications caused by the flu include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Children may experience sinus problems and ear infections.

The flu spreads in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. It usually spreads from person to person, though occasionally a person may become infected by touching something with the virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Adults may be able to infect others one day before experiencing any symptoms and up to seven days after becoming ill. This means a person can expose someone to the flu before they even know they are sick.

Stopping the germs

There are several things that can be done to keep yourself and your family from getting the flu:

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

• Wash your hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing.

• Wash with soap and water after leaving public places.

• Use alcohol-based hand cleaners when soap and water is not available.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Visit your physician or clinic to receive a flu shot. The Coconino County Health Department has vaccine available. To schedule an appointment, call (928) 522-7920.

Diana Rolland, R.N., specializes in Infection Control and Prevention at FMC. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com. For more information, see your physician.

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