An estimated 20 million Americans fall ill with the flu every
year. Your chance of coming down with the flu increases significantly
if you do not get a shot, or if you encounter someone infected with a
What does the future hold if you come in contact with a dreaded flu virus?
And once flu symptoms appear, what can you do to fight the illness?
The virus enters your body through the mouth or nose membrane. You probably
have no idea that you have just contracted an influenza strain.
The virus settles in your lungs and begins to grow. Except for the occasional
sniffle, no flu symptoms appear. But looks are deceiving. A person infected
with a flu virus is contagious during this incubation stage.
As the incubation period ends, flu symptoms strike with sudden force.
Your body temperature rises. Shivers make your skin tingle. A headache
sets in. Muscles start to ache. Your nose becomes stuffy and runs. A heavy
cough and sore throat cause discomfort. You experience general malaise.
Your only chance to short-circuit the flu cycle comes in the first 48
hours after symptoms hit you. Some prescription drugs can provide a measure
of relief, lessening the symptoms and shortening the length of your illness.
You must consult your doctor to get a prescription.
Zanamivir (Relenza) prevents a flu virus from replicating. It is inhaled
through a hand-held breathing device called a Diskhaler. Zanamivir has
proved effective against both A and B virus strains of the flu. It can
help reduce the flu's duration by one or two days.
Antiviral medications amantadine (Symmetrel and Symadine) and rimantadine
(Flumadine) can reduce the flu period by half, but they only work against
the Type A virus. They come in syrup, tablet or capsule form.
Over-the-counter flu remedies may help you feel a bit better, but they
won't do anything to fight the virus.
The flu hits its stride during this time span. Your body's immune system
is under full siege from the virus.
Once you're really sick, what can you do to feel better?
Get plenty of bed rest.
Drink lots of fluids, preferably water or juices, to flush virus
organisms from the body and prevent dehydration.
Eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A, E and carotene. Although
loss of appetite usually accompanies the flu, food can give the body strength
to fight the virus.
Use a decongestant to help allay sneezing and a runny nose.
Take acetaminophen, a non-aspirin pain reliever, to ease headache
and aching muscles. A warm shower or bath can also help soothe muscle
Consider using an expectorant to loosen bronchial congestion.
Drink warm water with lemon and honey to relieve a scratchy throat.
Don't get a flu shot after infection. This aggravates a flu situation.
Don't work out. Exercise further increases body temperature and
that rundown feeling.
Don't drink alcohol or coffee. They work as diuretics that drain
moisture from the body.
Don't mingle with other people. A person remains contagious as
long as he or she runs a fever.
By the last days of the flu period, your body has started to produce the
antibodies needed to destroy the virus.
You slowly regain strength and recover. You may resume normal activities
once the fever disappears and coughing diminishes. Although you're well
enough to go to work, fatigue can linger for weeks afterward.
After symptoms disappear, you are usually immune to the strain of the
flu virus you just overcame. But this does not guarantee protection from
other flu strains.
Editor's note: These links will take you to Web sites with content we
do not control or endorse.
Flu virus profiles, from International Influenza Education Panel
Virus types and influenza history, from Centers for Disease Control and
Influenza awareness information and tips, from American Lung Association
Influenza history, strains, symptoms and treatment, from The Daily Apple
What to expect in the coming flu season and how to prepare, from onhealth
American Lung Association; The Orange County Register/KRT; Chicago Tribune/KRT;
The Orlando Sentinel/KRT; New York Daily News/KRT; The Cincinnati Enquirer;
Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Ma.); The Times-Picayune (New Orleans);
Producer: Chuck Myers/KRT
Designer: Adam Mark/KRT and Ron Coddington/KRT
Research: Howard McComas/KRT; Melissa Green/KRT
Animation: Peter Kohama/KRT
Limitations on use of material in this Web package: This content
is owned by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services and contains material
that is derived in whole or in part from material supplied by KRT or its
contributors. The entire Web package and all material in it are protected
by international copyright and trademark laws. You may not copy, reproduce,
republish, upload, post, transmit or distribute in any way any material
from this Web package, including code and software without our permission.
KRT is a
joint venture of Knight
Ridder and the Tribune