Dr. M.J. Bazos, Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis
Influenza is a common, acute, and highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. Symptoms usually appear 24–48 hours after exposure. It is spread by contact with infected individuals. It affects individuals of all ages, but is especially dangerous for the very young, the elderly, and anyone with a chronic illness. The entire respiratory tract is affected. Influenza cannot be cured, but symptoms can be controlled with medications. It can be prevented by obtaining the flu vaccine offered in the fall.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Signs and symptoms include sudden onset of chills and fever (a temperature of 101°F to 104°F), muscle aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, and weakness. These usually last 3–5 days, with the cough and fatigue lasting longer. Possible complications include middle ear infections, sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, and Reye’s syndrome.

The best treatment is rest. For discomfort use nonaspirin medications, such as Tylenol or Advil, as well as cough syrups and decongestants. Do not give aspirin to a child younger than 16 years because research has shown a link between using aspirin for a viral infection and the development of Reye’s syndrome. Some cough medications and decongestants may cause drowsiness. Warm baths or a heating pad can help relieve the muscle aches. A cool-mist vaporizer may help thin secretions, but remember to change the water and clean the unit daily. Gargling with warm salt water or mouthwash may ease the sore throat.

The DOs
• Rest in bed as much as possible. Continue to rest for 2 or 3 days after the fever subsides.
• Increase fluid intake to at least 8 glasses a day. Fluids help to thin lung secretions. In small children, avoid milk because it sometimes thickens secretions.
• Limit visitors and close contact with other family members.
• Wash hands frequently. Dispose of all tissue in a paper or plastic bag at the bedside.
• Encourage those who have contact with you to wash their hands well.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t go to work or school if you think you have the flu. You need to rest, and you would only be spreading the virus to others.
• Don’t allow anyone with a chronic illness or suppressed immune system (such as a patient with AIDS or someone receiving chemotherapy) to come in contact with the infected individual.
• Don’t share glasses or eating utensils.
• Don’t give aspirin to a child younger than 16 years.
• Don’t give a young child milk because it thickens secretions.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If your fever or cough worsens.
• If shortness of breath or chest pain occurs.
• If there is a thick discharge from the ears or sinuses along with pain.
• If you have neck pain or stiffness.
• If you cough up bloody sputum.