What is influenza?
Influenza (flu) is a viral infection of the nose, throat, windpipe, and bronchi that occurs every winter. The main symptoms are a runny nose, sore throat, and nagging cough. Usually there’s more muscle pain, headache, fever, and chills than colds usually cause.
What causes the flu?
Flu is caused by influenza viruses. Flu viruses change yearly, which is why people can get the flu every year. The virus is spread by sneezing, coughing, and hand contact. It spreads rapidly because the incubation period is only 24 to 36 hours and the virus is very contagious. Thus, the spread of flu is very difficult to prevent.
How can I take care of myself?
The treatment of influenza depends on your main symptoms and is no different from the treatment for other viral respiratory infections.
- Fever or aches: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 6 hours or ibuprofen (Advil) every 8 hours for discomfort or fever over 102°F (39°C). Do not take aspirin because it may cause Reye’s syndrome.
- Cough or hoarseness: Use cough drops.
- Sore throat: Suck on hard candy. Warm chicken broth may also help.
- Stuffy or blocked nose: Warm-water or saline nosedrops and nose blowing will open most blocked noses. You can buy saline spray without a prescription. Saline nosedrops can also be made by adding 1/2 teaspoon of table salt to 1 cup (8 oz) of warm water.
- Fluids. Make sure you drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration.
How long will the flu last?
The fever lasts 2 to 3 days, the runny or stuffy nose 1 to 2 weeks, and the cough 2 to 3 weeks.
How can I prevent influenza?
The influenza vaccine gives protection for 1 year. All healthy children and teens age 6 months to 18 years should get a flu shot. Those with chronic diseases (for example, asthma) need to come in for yearly influenza boosters. Pregnant teens are considered at high risk for complications. Anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get the flu shot. Talk with your healthcare provider or parents if you think you should have flu shots.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call during office hours if:
- You develop any complications such as an earache, sinus pain or pressure, or a fever lasting over 3 days.
- You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-04
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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