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What is influenza?

Influenza (the flu) is an infection caused by the influenza virus. The flu is easily spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or has close contact with others. You may be able to spread the flu to others for 1 week or longer after signs or symptoms appear.

What increases my risk for influenza or makes the illness worse?

  • You live with or care for someone who has the flu.

  • You live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, or you live in close quarters with other people.

  • You have heart, liver, brain, kidney, or lung disease. Your risk is also higher if you have cancer, diabetes, seizures, or a spinal cord injury.

  • You are older than 50 or pregnant.

  • You have a weak immune system caused by HIV, AIDS, an organ transplant, or another condition.

  • You travel to places where other people have the flu.

What are the signs and symptoms of influenza?

  • Fever and chills

  • Headaches, body aches, and muscle or joint pain

  • Cough, runny nose, and sore throat

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Tiredness

  • Trouble breathing

How is influenza diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask if you have other health conditions. Tell him if you have been around sick people or traveled recently. Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant. A sample of fluid may be collected from your nose or throat to be tested for the influenza virus.

How is influenza treated?

Most people get better within a week. Medicines used to treat the flu include the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • NSAIDs help decrease pain and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

  • Antivirals are given to fight an infection caused by a virus.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Get more rest and sleep. This may help you get better faster when you have the flu.

  • Drink more liquids as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. This can help prevent dehydration.

How can I help prevent the spread of influenza?

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Use gel hand cleanser when there is no soap and water available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.

  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs.

  • Clean shared items. Clean table surfaces, doorknobs, and light switches with a germ-killing cleaner. Do not share towels, silverware, or dishes with people who are sick. Wash bed sheets, towels, silverware, and dishes with soap and water.

  • Wear a face mask over your mouth and nose if you have the flu or are near anyone who has the flu. Ask healthcare providers where to buy single-use masks.

  • Stay home if you are sick. Stay away from others as much as possible while you recover.

  • Get an influenza vaccine to help prevent the flu. Everyone older than age 6 months should get a yearly influenza vaccine. Get the vaccine as soon as it is available, usually in October or November each year.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms get worse.

  • You have new symptoms, such as muscle pain or weakness.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You are dizzy, or you are urinating less or not at all.

  • You have a seizure.

  • You have a headache with a stiff neck, and you feel very tired or confused.

  • You have trouble breathing, and your lips look purple or blue.

  • You have new pain or pressure in your chest.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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