Influenza A and B are the two main forms of the flu virus. Both types of the flu cause yearly outbreaks of contagious illness. Although anyone can get the flu, pregnant women, children, the elderly and sufferers of certain chronic diseases are particularly at risk. While flu can be deadly, health officials work continuously to develop new and more effective treatment options.
Both type A and type B influenza are considered seasonal forms of flu. Flu season in the United States generally begins in the autumn and peaks between December and March. While both types of flu can cause illness, type A typically causes more severe symptoms.
Prevention as Treatment
The best option for treating the flu is to avoid it altogether, and the most common way to do this is to get vaccinated. Before each flu season, officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend guidelines for the creation of a seasonal flu vaccine. Pharmaceutical manufacturers then create vaccines from those guidelines and make those vaccines available to the public.
If you choose to get a flu shot, make sure you do so as soon as a seasonal vaccine becomes available. It takes a couple of weeks or so for any vaccine you take to reach its full effectiveness, and it is also possible to contract the flu well before the peak season begins. As an alternative to a flu shot, healthy individuals from 2 to 49 years of age may use a nasal spray vaccine. While well-formulated vaccines are effective for most people younger than 65 years, no vaccine can completely eliminate your chances of becoming ill. Consult your doctor for full guidelines on the risks and benefits of seasonal vaccination.
Treating Active Flu
If you do get the flu, your symptoms will likely include chills, fever in excess of 101 degrees F (sometimes as high as 105 degrees F in children), headache, sweats, dry cough, fatigue, weakness and muscular aches and pains. Children may also experience bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases, standard treatment for these symptoms involves plenty of rest and adequate fluid intake. Use of over-the-counter medications can help make you more comfortable, but remember to strictly avoid giving aspirin to children or teenagers.
In healthy individuals, symptoms of the flu typically diminish and disappear on their own. However, life-threatening complications are possible, particularly for the at-risk groups mentioned above. If you are concerned for your own health or for the health of your child or loved one, contact your physician as soon as possible for proper guidance.
Under your doctor's care, you may also take special antiviral medications to treat or prevent the flu. Examples of these medications include oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). While they are effective, these compounds carry their own risks, including nausea, loss of appetite and vomiting. Using Tamiflu can also lead to confusion and risk of self-injury, and individuals using the drug should be monitored for signs of strange behavior. See your doctor for a full explanation of the pros and cons of these medications.
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