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Chest and Respiratory Problems

Influenza (Flu)

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Influenza, or flu, is a viral illness that commonly occurs in the winter and affects many people at once. Flu is not the same as the common cold-- the symptoms of flu are usually more severe and come on quite suddenly. Symptoms include fever (38.3° to 40°C or 101 ° to 104°F ), shaking chills, body aches, muscle pain, headache, pain when you move your eyes, fatigue, weakness, and runny nose. Symptoms may last up to 10 days. Most other viral illnesses have milder symptoms that don't last as long.

Although a person with the flu feels very sick, the illness seldom leads to more serious complications. Flu can be dangerous for infants, older adults, and people with chronic diseases.


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  • Get a flu shot each autumn if you are over 65; if you have a chronic illness, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes; or if you live in a nursing home.

  • Consider annual flu shots if you or your family members are likely to be exposed to the disease through work or by being around other children, or if you just want to reduce the chance that you and your family will catch the disease. The vaccine can be given to anyone over 6 months of age.

  • Keep up your resistance to infection by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, and exercising regularly.

  • Avoid exposure to the flu virus. Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.

  • Stop smoking.

Home Treatment

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  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Drink extra fluids to replace fluids lost from fever, to ease a scratchy throat, and to keep the nasal mucus thin. Hot tea with lemon, plain water, fruit juice, and soup are all good choices.

  • Take acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen to relieve fever, headache, and muscle aches. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20.

When to Call a Health Professional

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It is common for adults with influenza to have high fevers (up to 40°C or 104°F) for 3 to 4 days. When trying to decide if you need to see a doctor, consider the likelihood that you have the flu versus a possible bacterial infection. If it is the flu season and many people in your community have similar symptoms, it is likely that you have the flu. Medications are now available that can reduce the severity and duration of the flu if they are given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Call a health professional:

  • If you develop signs of a bacterial infection (See Viral or Bacterial?).

  • If you seem to get better, then get worse again.

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