Influenza may be a virus infection that attacks your system a respiratory — your nose, throat and lungs. Influenza is usually called the flu, but it isn't an equivalent as stomach "flu" viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting.
For most people, the flu resolves on its own. But sometimes, influenza and its complications are often deadly. People at higher risk of developing flu complications include:
Ø Young children under age 5, and especially those under 6 months
Ø Adults older than age 65
Ø Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
Ø Pregnant women and women up to two weeks after giving birth
Ø People with weakened immune systems
Ø Native Americans
Ø People who are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
At first, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to return on suddenly. And although a cold can be a bother, you usually feel much worse with the flu.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
Ø Aching muscles
Ø Chills and sweats
Ø Dry, persistent cough
Ø Shortness of breath
Ø Tiredness and weakness
Ø Runny or stuffy nose
Ø Sore throat
Ø Eye pain
Ø Vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults
Influenza viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, otherwise you can devour the germs from an object — like a telephone or keypad — then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth.
People with the virus are likely contagious from about a day before symptoms appear until about five days after they start. Children and other people with weakened immune systems could also be contagious for a rather longer time.
Influenza viruses are constantly changing, with new strains appearing regularly. If you've had influenza in the past, your body has already made antibodies to fight that specific strain of the virus. If future influenza viruses are almost like those you've encountered before, either by having the disease or by getting vaccinated, those antibodies may prevent infection or lessen its severity. But antibody levels may decline over time.
Also, antibodies against influenza viruses you've encountered in the past may not protect you from new influenza strains that can be very different viruses from what you had before.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing the flu or its complications include:
Ø Age. Seasonal influenza tends to target children 6 months to 5 years old, and adults 65 years old or older.
Ø Living or working conditions. People who live or work in facilities with many other residents, such as nursing homes or military barracks, are more likely to develop the flu. People who are staying in the hospital are also at higher risk.
Ø Weakened immune system. Cancer treatments, anti-rejection drugs, long-term use of steroids, transplant, blood cancer or HIV/AIDS can weaken your system. This can make it easier for you to catch the flu and may also increase your risk of developing complications.
Ø Chronic illnesses. Chronic conditions, including lung diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, nervous system diseases, metabolic disorders, an airway abnormality, and kidney, liver or blood disease, may increase your risk of influenza complications.
Ø Race. Native American people may have an increased risk of influenza complications.
Ø Aspirin use under age 19. People who are younger than 19 years aged and receiving long-term aspirin therapy are in danger of developing Reye's syndrome if infected with influenza.
Ø Pregnancy. Pregnant women are more likely to develop influenza complications, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Women are more likely to develop influenza-related complications up to two weeks after delivering their babies.
Ø Obesity. People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more have an increased risk of flu complications.
If you're young and healthy, the flu usually isn't serious. Although you'll feel miserable while you've got it, the flu usually goes away during a week or two with no lasting effects. But children and adults at high risk may develop complications that may include:
Ø Asthma flare-ups
Ø Heart problems
Ø Ear infections
Ø Acute respiratory distress syndrome
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