Influenza FAQs

Treatment

Influenza is caused by a virus. Since viruses are not killed by antibiotics (penicillin, etc.), such medications do not help to alleviate or shorten this illness. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms.

What else can be done?

Fever:
Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol, etc.) two 500mg tablets will reduce fever. This dose can be repeated safely up to every 4-6 hours, not to exceed 8 tablets in a 24-hour period. An alternative choice is ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, etc.) to reduce fever and muscle aches. Recommended adult dose is 400mg up to every 4 hours. Take with food. Do not over dress. Wear only enough clothing so you are not chilled. Increase oral fluid intake to at least 2-3 quarts in a 24-hour period.

DO NOT USE ASPIRIN

Muscle Aches and Headache:
The acetaminophen or ibuprofen taken for fever should help alleviate these symptoms.
Cough:
Choose a cough medication with the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, e.g. (Robitussin DM). Effective dosage is 2 tsp. every 4 hours as needed.Increase environmental humidity through the use of a cold vaporizer or humidifier.

In General:

Pseudoephedrine, e.g. (Sudafed) is helpful for nasal congestion. Check the dosage of ingredients in any "multisymptom" cold medicine you may decide to use. Some do not contain sufficient amounts of any one ingredient to provide optimum effectiveness. If you have questions, ask the Pharmacist. Rest in bed during the acute stages and avoid large groups of people. Refrain from smoking.

What about flu shots?

Signs & symptoms of influenza may be similar to that of other viral infections, therefore, flu shots may assist clinicians in diagnostic workup in the event of exposureto other illnesses. Immunization is aimed at, but not limited to, high-risk people who have increased potential for adverse consequences or infection.

What is influenza?

Influenza ("Flu") is a viral illness that is prevalent from November through April. Influenza produces marked upper respiratory and general body symptoms. Influenza is caused by two major viruses, classified as Influenza A and Influenza B. The strains of these viruses that are responsible for large outbreaks of illness change from year to year. Consequently, it is necessary to get the flu shot every year for protection against new strains. The U.S. Public Health Service monitors influenza activity and predicts viral strains that can be expected each year. The influenza vaccine components are based on these predictions.

What are the symptoms?

Influenza typically begins with sudden onset of high fever (>101 degrees F), chills, muscle aches, headache, fatigue and dry cough. Many people also have a sore throat and runny nose. Although you may have a loss of appetite, influenza virus does not usually give you gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Severe symptoms usually last 3 to 7 days, however, cough and fatigue may persist for several weeks.

How is influenza spread?

The influenza virus is spread through secretions from the nose and throat of currently ill people. The period of communicability is probably limited to the first three days of illness and the incubation period is 24-72 hours. Good hand washing before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth can help to decrease the chance of acquiring influenza.

What about the new antivirals?

There are two new antiviral medications (Relenza and Tamiflu) in addition to the two older antivirals (amantadine and rimantadine). If started within the 1st 24-48 hours of illness, they can decrease the total duration of illness by 1-2 days at most. They have no effect if started later than that. Side effects may include (depending on which medication is used) headache, nausea, vomiting, cough, dizziness, and insomnia. Cost ranges from $10-30 for the older two medications and $50-60 for the new ones. They are contraindicated if you have a history of seizures, kidney or liver disease. Unless the slight decrease in total duration of illness is important to you, these medications have little benefit.

When should I consult a health care provider?

Uncomplicated influenza can best be managed by the symptomatic measures discussed previously and generally does not require a visit to a physician. Most people recover fully within 7 to 10 days. Rare complications include the following, and should be evaluated by your doctor:

  1. Ear infections- characterized by significant ear pain, fever or decreased hearing.
  2. Sinusitis - which produces facial pain and yellow-green nasal discharge.
  3. Pneumonia- which produces the following symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, cough productive of dark green, brown, or bloody sputum, and fever over 101.5 degrees unresponsive to acetaminophen or ibuprofen use.