Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Flu Likes It Cold

The flu killed 36,000 older Americans in 2003. Of all age groups, people over 84 are at the highest risk of dying from flu complications. People over 74 face the second highest risk. Older people and people with chronic illnesses are at the greatest risk of getting complications from the flu, such as pneumonia. The elderly have reduced cough and gag reflexes. Their immune systems are also not as strong.

The New York Times reported today that Mount Sinai School of Medicine has found that the flu virus is so prevalent in winter due to environmental conditions. The flu likes the cold weather. It is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry. In test animals, the virus was transmitted best at a low humidity of 20%, and not transmitted at all when the humidity reached 80%. The animals also released viruses nearly 2 days longer at 41 degrees than at room temperature of 68 degrees.

The flu usually spreads from person to person in respiratory droplets when people who are infected cough or sneeze. People occasionally may become infected by touching something with influenza virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Healthy adults may be able to infect others 1 day before getting symptoms and up to 5days after getting sick. Therefore, it is possible to give someone the flu before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick. To decrease the likelihood of passing the flu on this winter, be sure to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and discarding tissues immediately after use.

The flu tends to start suddenly and may include the following symptoms:

Fever (usually high)
Tiredness (can be extreme)
Sore throat
Runny or stuffy nose
Body aches
Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)
Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have the flu. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms.

Treatment for the flu:
Drink plenty of liquids
Ask your doctor or pharmacist before buying a new over-the-counter cold or flu medicine to make sure they won't interfere with prescribed medicine.

Call the doctor if your loved one or you have:
Trouble breathing
Your symptoms don't improve or get worse after 3 to 4 days.
After feeling a little better, you develop signs of a more serious problem. Some of these signs are a sick-to-your-stomach feeling, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick, yellow-green mucus.