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Influenza

This information is provided by the North Dakota Department of Health. It is not a substitute for advice from your doctor. 

What is influenza?

Influenza, commonly called the "flu," is a viral illness of the respiratory tract that usually occurs between December and April. Although often mistaken for the common cold, it is much more serious.

Who gets influenza?

Influenza is common in all age groups.

How is influenza spread?

Influenza is airborne and spreads easily among crowded populations in enclosed spaces.  It can be spread from person-to-person when droplets of moisture from a person with influenza are spread through the air by coughing, sneezing or talking. The virus remains for hours in dried mucus. 

What are the symptoms of influenza?

Influenza symptoms include fever, chills, headache, dry cough, and soreness and aching in the back, arms and legs. People may become very tired. It usually lasts only few days but can linger for weeks. 

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?

Typically one to five days after exposure.

When and for how long is a person able to spread influenza?

Influenza is probably communicable from 3-5 days in adults and up to 7 days in young children. 

Does past infection make a person immune?

Infection produces immunity to the specific infecting virus, but everyone would still be susceptible to numerous other virus stains causing influenza.

What complications can happen from influenza?

Influenza illness ranges from very mild to severe. Influenza can sometimes last longer and cause life-threatening complications in high-risk individuals, the elderly, or in rare cases in normal, healthy individuals. The risk of developing severe complications, such as pneumonia, increases with age, especially for people over 65 years. All individuals with chronic medical conditions (diabetes, diseases of the heart, lungs, or kidneys, severe anemia, or other chronic diseases that weaken the immune system) are also at risk.

What is the treatment for influenza?

Bed rest, drinking more than the usual amount of liquids, and taking pain relievers to help reduce the discomfort of illness are recommended. Children with influenza should not be given aspirin.  The drugs amantadine and rimantadine may reduce the severity of disease caused by influenza A if therapy is begun early in the course of the illness.

What can be done to prevent the spread of influenza?

Practice good hygiene techniques, including hand washing, and avoid crowds during influenza season.  Influenza vaccine should be given to persons at high risk of developing complications from influenza.
This may include:
1)  adults and children with chronic disorders, especially pulmonary and cardiovascular disorders
2)  persons aged 65 years and older
3)  children and teenagers receiving long-term aspirin therapy
4)  persons infected with HIV
5)  household members of high risk persons
6)  those providing care to high-risk individuals. 

Amantadine and rimantadine may help to prevent type A influenza in high-risk persons or their caregivers who need protection during an influenza outbreak, but who have not been vaccinated.