Influenza viruses attack the respiratory system, from the nose and throat, down through the bronchial tubes, and into the lungs. In the 1918 flu pandemic, victims built up so much fluid in their lungs that they essentially died of drowning. Symptoms of flu are like those of a cold, except much worse, and they come on much faster. High fevers and chills are common, and there may be vomiting and diarrhea. It’s highly contagious.
Because most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before their own symptoms develop (and up to 5 days after becoming sick), you can be in danger of becoming infected from someone else before you or the other person knows they are sick.
The Flu: A Good Excuse to Stay Home and Sleep
Most people are not in deadly danger from a flu virus (though occasionally a particularly potent virus emerges that puts vast segments of the population in danger, as it did in 1918). The usual treatment is plenty of bed rest, lots of fluids, and aspirin or Tylenol to reduce fever.
There are many flu home remedies:
* Vitamin C, zinc, garlic capsules. These supplements may be of limited value once you’ve got the virus, but they probably can do no harm. Recent studies have said that Vitamin C and zinc supplements show no effect in reducing symptoms.
* Drink tea that’s a mixture of 1 tsp. bayberry bark, 1 tsp. grated ginger root, ½ tsp. cayenne powder, and 1 cup of boiling water. Allow to steep for 20 minutes.
* Catnip tea and 1/2 tsp. of lobelia tincture every four hours supposedly will lower a high fever. Pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers, and children under one year old should, however, avoid this stuff.
Wash your hands frequently. Doing so helps you to avoid spreading the disease or even getting it in the first place. Additional advice for avoiding the virus:
* Follow a well-balanced diet. A poor diet lowers your immunity and makes you more vulnerable to infections. A good balanced diet features fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and small amounts of lean protein.
* Get enough sleep. The amount needed varies from person to person. If you feel tired during the day, you may be getting too little sleep, which leaves you open to opportunistic infections, such as the flu.
* Exercise. Improve your immune system through doing such regular cardiovascular exercise as walking, biking, or aerobics. People who exercise are less likely to get upper respiratory infections, have less-severe symptoms when they do, and recover more quickly.
* Avoid air travel. New flu strains tend to spread rapidly in November, during the height of the holiday travel season, and air circulation systems in airplanes are notorious for spreading colds, flu, and other infectious diseases.
* Stay away from crowds during flu season. The season is typically from November through March. Flu spreads quickly through any kind of crowd.
Who Should Get a Shot?
At particular risk are older folks, young children, and people with comprised immune systems such as diabetics. These people, from the age of six months to seniors of any age (as well as pregnant women in their second or third trimesters), are advised to get injections of flu vaccine before the beginning of the winter flu season. Older adults and those with chronic illnesses should also be inoculated for pneumococcal pneumonia, a potentially deadly complication of influenza.
But even if you have not gotten an inoculation, if you begin to show severe symptoms, there are anti-viral drugs that may be prescribed to shorten the length of time you are ill and might also prevent even more severe symptoms from developing. Should pneumonia develop, getting medical attention is imperative.
Other flu complications include ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Some people, however, should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician:
* People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
* People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
* People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
* Children less than six months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for use in this age group).
* People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms ease off.
As a final thought, consider the similarities between influenza and living in earthquake zones. In California, you can expect a mild shake every now and then. Every decade or so, there is a large one that kills a number of people and levels some buildings. But then, there is the “Big One,” like the one that leveled San Francisco in 1906. These generally come about once every 70 years, and California is overdue for the monster quake that will undoubtedly kill scores of people.
A pandemic like the one in 1918 also hits at least once every century. Public health officials await the next one with some trepidation. There may be no inoculation for the next “Big Flu Attack.”