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What Is The Flu?

Like many people, you may be worried about the flu.  You’ll learn how to help protect yourself and others from getting the flu. You’ll also learn what to do, if you do get it.

The flu can be serious

“Flu” is short for influenza. Influenza is the virus that causes flu symptoms. A virus can infect cells and cause disease.
Your body has a defense against things, like a virus, that can harm you. This defense is your immune system. It helps you to build protection (“immunity”) against many diseases, once you’ve had them.
But flu viruses change. This means that you can get the flu more than once. That’s why you should get a shot each year. The flu attacks the lungs. Most people who get the flu get better in a week or two. But, for some, problems from the flu can be deadly.

The people most likely to have the worst flu effects are:

  • Young children
  • People age 50 or older
  • People with health problems

The flu can make health problems that you have worse. These include heart and lung diseases.

How you can catch the flu?

The flu spreads in tiny fluid drops. You can get it when someone near you sneezes or coughs. But you also can get it, if you touch something with the virus on it and then touch your nose. You can have the flu before you have symptoms. You can spread it to others, even if you don’t seem sick. Once you have it, you can spread the flu for about a week. Anyone can get the flu. The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each year.

Types of Flu

There are several types of flu virus. They can change from year to year. Your body's immune system may not be prepared for these changes. That’s why you need a flu shot each year. Each year, scientists make a flu vaccine to fight the flu viruses that are most likely to infect people that year. A flu shot may also help you to protect the people near you. You may reduce the chances that you'll spread the flu to others, if you get a flu shot.

Flu Pandemics

A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. It happens when a new virus causes severe illness. The illness spreads quickly from person to person worldwide. There were three flu pandemics in the last century: In 1918, 1957, and 1968. The most severe was in 1918. It caused millions of deaths.
Vaccines may not be ready early in a pandemic. Flu vaccines are designed to protect against specific flu viruses. A pandemic vaccine can’t be made until a new pandemic virus is known . It may take months before a vaccine is ready.

About bird flu

Experts don’t know when the next pandemic will occur or what flu virus may cause it. Some think that the bird flu may be a threat. You may have heard of the bird flu. It’s also called avian flu. Currently the bird flu rarely infects humans. There have been some human cases in other countries. About half of the people who got bird flu died. People get this flu by contact with live, sick, or dead poultry. But experts worry that the virus could become able to spread between people. This could cause a worldwide outbreak. Countries are getting ready, in case the virus begins to spread from person to person.
In the US, drug companies are working with the government to prepare for a pandemic, if one happens. Vaccines that could protect against the bird flu are under development.

Is It A Cold Or The Flu?

A cold and the flu are alike in many ways. But the flu can lead to more serious problems. This chart compares cold and flu symptoms.

When to Get the Flu Shot

The flu is more common at a certain time of year. This is called flu season. It can start in October. It can last as late as May. There can be new flu viruses each year. That’s why you should get a flu shot every year. This is key, if you’re at risk for health problems from getting the flu.



Building up your defense

The best time to get your shot is October through November. If you get the shot later, it may still help protect you. Talk with your doctor to see if the flu shot is right for you. In some cases, your doctor may suggest other ways to help protect you from the flu.

Use Good Health Habits

These tips can help you to protect yourself (and others) from getting the flu:

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Stay home when you’re sick. Try to stay home from work, school, and errands. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick during flu season. Stay away from people who cough or sneeze.
  • Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands often. This can help protect you from germs. When you can’t use soap and water, use hand wipes or gel cleansers. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If you use gel, then rub your hands together, until the gel is dry.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Keep your hands away from your face, if you can. If you get the virus on your hands, then you can infect yourself by touching your nose. To help keep your hands germ-free, wash them often.
  • Cover your mouth and nose. Put a tissue over your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. It may keep others from getting sick, if you have the flu.



Know the Vaccine Options

Vaccines use your body's immune system to protect you. The flu shot is a type of vaccine.
There are two types of flu vaccines:
Flu shot
You get the shot by needle in the arm. People who are older than 6 months of age can get it. These include healthy people and those with long-term health problems. Don’t get a flu shot, if you:

  • Are allergic to eggs or chicken.
  • Had a severe reaction to or an illness from a flu shot.
  • Have a high fever. (Ask your doctor when you should get the shot.)

Most common side effects

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where you had the shot
  • Mild fever
  • You don't get the flu from a flu shot.

Nasal spray vaccine
This nose spray is used in healthy people who are 5 to 49 years old. Pregnant women shouldn’t get it. Don’t get the spray vaccine, if you:

  • Have certain heart or lung conditions, including asthma.
  • Have diabetes or kidney problems.
  • Are allergic to eggs or chicken.
  • Had a severe reaction to this vaccine or a severe illness after a flu shot.
  • Have a disease that affects your immune system (like AIDS or cancer).
  • Take drugs that lower your immune system.

Most common side effects

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

Check with your doctor about which vaccine is best for you.


Drugs That Treat Or Help Prevent Flu

Learn about drugs that treat the flu

There are some drugs, called antivirals, which may help you to have a shorter, milder case of the flu. They don't replace the flu shot. See your doctor within two days of having flu symptoms. Treatment can help you to feel better sooner or reduce the duration of the illness.

Learn about drugs that can help prevent the flu

Some of these drugs can help reduce the chance of getting the flu. Your doctor may want you to take one of them, if you can’t have the flu shot or are at risk of exposure to the flu.
For example, your doctor may suggest one, if:

  • You’re age 50 or older.
  • Have a long-term health problem (like heart or lung disease).
  • You’re pregnant.
Side effects differ for these drugs. If your doctor prescribes one, then ask how to use it and discuss possible side effects. Some of these drugs can be prescribed for children age 1 and older. Talk with your doctor as soon as you can, if your child has flu symptoms. New drugs to help prevent and treat flu are being developed.

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  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress Test
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  • Holter Monitoring
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