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Influenza

Influenza Virus

The influenza virus causes the respiratory condition of influenza (the flu).  The virus is contagious and is spread through respiratory droplets that are released through coughing and sneezing.  These droplets can land on or be inhaled by other people within about six feet of the infected individual.  Individual who touch an object that has droplets on it and then touch their faces without washing their hands can also spread the influenza virus. 

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of the influenza virus include fatigue, fever, body aches, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, cough, and sore throat.  Different individuals will experience the same virus differently in terms of which symptoms appear and the severity of the symptoms.  For example, children are much more likely than adults to have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.  One of the biggest dangers of flu symptoms is the risk of dehydration.  If dehydration becomes extreme, one may need to go to the hospital for intravenous hydration.

Risks

In most cases of the influenza virus, symptoms last less than two week.  In some cases, however, complications can arise that can be life threatening.  There are risk factors to flu complications.  One risk factor is age.  Children under the age of 5 are much more likely to have flu complications that older children or adults.  Children under the age of 2 are the highest risk age group.  Adults over the age of 65 are also at increased risk.  Complications that can occur include developing sinus or ear infections or more dangerous respiratory issues like pneumonia and bronchitis.  Other individuals who are at risk are those with a chronic illness.  The influenza virus can exacerbate many of these illnesses.  If one’s flu symptoms are severe or they last longer than two weeks one may want to contact a doctor.

Prevention

There is no cure for the flu once you have it.  Prevention, however, is possible.  The best way to stay influenza free is to get a yearly flu vaccination.  Flu vaccinations are widely available and usually inexpensive.  Other good prevention measures include frequently washing one’s hands with soap and water, using alcohol-based hand rubs, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth, avoiding other individuals who are infected, covering one’s mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and sanitizing frequently touched items.

Blood Tests

A blood test for influenza is usually not performed if an individual presents with flu symptoms in an area that is known to have a flu outbreak.  However, if the individual presents with flu symptoms in an area that does not currently have any flu cases, the doctor may order an influenza blood test to see if the flu really is the cause of the symptoms.  Similarly, if an individual presents with flu symptoms plus other symptoms during the flu season, a blood test for influenza can be used to help determine whether some, all, or none of the patient’s symptoms are due to the influenza virus.  Influenza blood tests are also sometimes used to gauge the prevalence of the virus within a community. 

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