Health Notes - Is This The Flu?
Signs of Influenza
by Ellen S. Mullen M.D.
Your 15 year old wakes up with a fever of 102 degrees and is complaining of hurting all over, bad headache, slight cough and pain behind his eyes. He was fine yesterday but during the night became feverish. Last week several of his friends at school were out sick. He denies abdominal pain, sore throat or ear pain. He has not had any diarrhea or vomiting. What is your next step?
This is likely “the flu”. Influenza is a common illness which seriously affects 3-5 million persons worldwide annually. Symptoms consist of fever, cough, muscle aches, headache, eye pain and/or sore throat. It is highly contagious and can be transmitted 24 hours before symptoms begin and for 5-10 days after. It may take 18-72 hours for a person to display symptoms of the illness after being exposed. Treatment is most helpful in the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Symptoms are usually self-limited but can last for 5-10 days and in some lead to serious complications including pneumonia, encephalitis, respiratory failure and death. The most common forms of influenza are types A and B.
Persons at the highest risk for complications from influenza are older adults, young children, persons with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women. However, healthy adults also can develop complications. This is why the CDC recommends that all persons six months and older receive the influenza vaccine. Antiviral therapy is available for those infected with influenza. It is also recommended that health care worker, pregnant women and persons at risk of complications from the flu be treated if they are exposed to the flu. Ibuprofen or Tylenol may be used to help lessen symptoms. The flu vaccine is a dead vaccine and does not cause the flu but may help to prevent the flu or decrease the severity of the illness.