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Knowledge is power when it comes to fighting FLU!

on November 6, 2014

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Knowledge is power when it comes to fighting Flu!

As the season begins to change, there you go, the first sneeze, the overnight cough and sore throat. Oh Lord! I hope it’s not the flu!!

“Flu,” the miserable respiratory infection we fear every start of winter and spring, is basically a short form of Influenza caused by the Influenza virus. The virus is spread person to person through respiratory secretions either through inhaling droplets or directly touching contaminated objects. That is why frequent, thorough hand washing is advised during flu season.

Let’s try to understand the difference between a common cold, rhinitis and the flu.

1. The Common Cold is a self-limiting infection of nose and throat, mostly caused by Rhinovirus (over 90 strains). It is contagious and causes sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, post-nasal drip, coughing and sneezing and sometimes low grade fever. It usually resolves in 7-10 days. Complications in children include middle ear infections and febrile seizures.
2. Rhinitis or coryza is a condition of irritated or inflamed mucous membrane of the nose that results in secretions causing rhinorrhea or runny nose. This can be a result of an irritant, an inhaled allergen, a bacterial infection like strep or H. influenzae or a viral infection like rhinovirus and influenza virus.
3. Flu is a contagious respiratory infection caused by the Influenza virus that has 3 sero-types, A, B and C. All three types of virus can mutate yielding new strains of the virus every few years. It has symptoms similar to common cold but more severe and can get much worse leading to life threatening pneumonia. Flu symptoms, that start to develop one to four days after infection, include chest congestion, sore throat, sneezing, coughing, chest discomfort and then abrupt onset of head and body aches, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and high grade fever.

Diagnosing Your Symptoms:

Depending on the onset, severity and duration of symptoms, it can be easily detected if you are suffering from a common cold, flu or life threatening pneumonia. A common cold usually has mild symptoms with or without low grade fever (under 101F) and goes away within 7 days without any treatment. However if weakness, body aches, fatigue or high grade fever (101F and above) set in, flu is usually suspected. If sneezing and runny nose are prominent, then a patch test can be done to determine allergic rhinitis. If the high grade fever continues for more than 3 days, and the cough is accompanied by chest tightness or shortness of breath, a visit to the doctor is recommended. The doctor might do a swab test of the throat or collect secretion samples to check for bacterial infections and do a chest X-Ray to determine pneumonia.

Management of Symptoms:

Depending on severity of disease and age of the person, symptomatic treatment is recommended. Many over the counter medicines contain a combination of cough suppressant (dextromethorphan), an expectorant that thins the mucous, an antihistamine (anti allergy) for sneezing and runny nose, a decongestant and a pain and fever reliever but it’s better to take medicine for symptoms that are present. The combination of medicines may give optimal relief if you have multiple cold symptoms but the downside is that you may be taking medication that you don’t need.

Drinking lots of fluids and using salt water gargles (made by combining a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt) can often be helpful for easing the pain of sore throat. Over-the-counter pain relievers and medicated lozenges and gargles can also temporarily soothe a sore throat.

Antibiotics may be helpful only if there is a bacterial infection. Antiviral medications are available to treat flu. Due to continuous mutation in the influenza virus, producing new strains every few years, it’s difficult to develop a permanent treatment and prevention plan for controlling the diseases. Even if you develop antibodies against a flu virus one year, those antibodies are unlikely to protect you against a new strain of the flu virus the next year. That is why vaccination against the flu virus is recommended every year for everyone over the age of 6 weeks.

You can find out more about treatment options and prevention methods of Flu as recommended by Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the year 2014-15 here.

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