Facts About the Flu
What is the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory infection caused by type A and type B influenza viruses. It is most common in the fall and winter.
The flu is highly contagious; the virus usually enters the body through mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes airborne and can be inhaled by anyone nearby.
In most communities, it is school-age children who are the first to get the flu, and then they carry it home and to other group activities. In a mild flu season, about 10% to 15% of the population becomes infected. In a more severe flu season, 20% or more of the population can suffer from the flu.
How do I know if I have the flu?
Flu generally strikes 1 to 3 days after exposure to the virus. The onset of flu often seems sudden: people describe feeling like they've "been hit by a truck." Common flu symptoms include sudden onset, fever and chills, cough, muscle and joint pain, headache, fatigue and weakness. Some people also get a stuffy nose and sore throat.
Is the flu dangerous?
A bad case of the flu will probably send a healthy adult or child to bed for 3 to 5 days. Afterwards, the person will recover fully, but cough and tiredness may persist for days or weeks.
Nonetheless, the flu can be a serious illness. Each year, up to 40 million Americans develop the flu, and about 150,000 are hospitalized. During past epidemics in the United States, influenza and its complications have caused between 10,000 and 40,000 deaths.
People over the age of 50 and those of all ages with chronic illnesses (such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and HIV) are more likely to become seriously ill with the flu. These people are also more likely to go on to develop other serious infections such as pneumonia. If you are elderly or have a chronic disease, you should call your doctor at the first sign of flu symptoms.
Can the flu be cured with antibiotics?
No. Because the flu is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria and are, therefore, only useful for treating bacterial infections.
If your doctor does not think that you need antibiotics to treat your infection, do not insist. Inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which is a major public health problem.
What should I do if I get the flu?
Rest is important to help you get better. Plus, if you stay home, there's less risk that you'll give the flu to other people. Flu continues to be contagious for 3 or 4 days after symptoms appear.
You should also drink plenty of fluids. Hot liquids may relieve the feeling of congestion. A pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, can be taken for aches and fever. Never give aspirin to a child under 12 who has the flu (or any illness you suspect is caused by a virus) due to the risk of a serious adverse effect known as Reye's Syndrome.
When should I seek medical attention?
If you feel seriously ill, or are concerned regarding your symptoms, visit the Health Services office for an evaluation.
As discussed earlier, people over the age of 50 and those of all ages with chronic health problems should always contact a doctor if they get the flu.
Also, people with the flu sometimes develop other serious infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis or ear infection. You should be evaluated promptly if:
- You are coughing up thick, discolored or bloody mucus
- You have symptoms such as recurring fever, chest pain, facial swelling, severe pain in the face or forehead or earache
What's the difference between the flu and a cold?
Both the flu and a cold are viral infections and can cause symptoms such as coughing and sore throat. A cold is a minor viral infection of the nose and throat. The flu, however, is usually more severe, with higher fevers and the addition of aches and pains.
HIV Infection & AIDS
HIV and its Transmission
HIV is a fragile virus. It primarily infects a group of white blood cells that manage the operations of the immune system. But it can also infect cells in the nervous system, colon, and blood vessels.
Nobody "catches" HIV infection the way people "catch" a cold. HIV does not survive long enough outside the body to be caught from the air, or in water, or off objects and surfaces. It is transmitted by semen, blood and blood products, and vaginal and cervical secretions. HIV is not transmitted by saliva, sweat, tears, or urine.
HIV can be transmitted 1) by particular kinds of sexual contact; 2) by direct exposure to infected blood; and 3) from an HIV infected woman to her fetus during pregnancy or childbirth or, possibly, to her infant during breast feeding.
1. Sexual Contact
Anal and Vaginal Intercourse: HIV is more likely to be transmitted by unprotected anal or vaginal intercourse than by other sexual activities. Anal intercourse (penis in anus) is more likely to allow HIV transmission, because HIV can attach itself to cells in the lower rectum. HIV may be easier to transmit to the receptive partner than to the insertive partner. However, an intact latex condom, properly used, substantially reduces the risk of transmitting HIV during anal or vaginal intercourse. Condoms offer little protection against HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), Herpes and Chlamydia- especially for females.
Oral Sex (oral-genital contact): The risk of acquiring HIV infection by performing oral sex on a man (fellatio) is uncertain. There seems to be some risk, but it is clearly much lower than the risk of vaginal or anal intercourse. Since pre-ejaculatory fluid ("pre-cum") may contain HIV, it is not necessarily any safer to stop before the man ejaculates. The chance of acquiring HIV by performing oral sex on a woman (cunnilingus) is not precisely known, but also seems small. Whether you are a woman or man, the risk of contracting HIV by having oral sex performed on you seems extremely low.
Kissing: Although HIV is very rarely present in the saliva of people with HIV infection, there is absolutely no evidence that kissing can transmit the virus. No case of HIV infection has been traced to exposure to saliva in any circumstances.
There is no chance of transmitting HIV through sexual activities that do not include direct contact of semen, vaginal secretions, or blood with mucous membranes. Touching; stroking; massage; and masturbation, alone or with a partner, do not transmit HIV but can transfer 'skin-to-skin' transmitted diseases like HPV, herpes or molluscum.
Needle Sharing: No matter what substance is in the needle, if you share needles with others, you may be directly exposed to their blood. People share needles for intravenous drug use (such as heroin and crack), and for shooting anabolic steroids to build bulk and power for athletic performance. HIV may also be transmitted if needles are "shared" when used for tattooing, ear piercing, or acupuncture. Hepatitis B&C can also be transmitted by needle sharing.
Blood and blood transfusions: HIV has been transmitted in blood and blood products used in the medical treatment of hemophilia, injuries, and serious illnesses. The combination of screening donors and testing blood has reduced the risk of acquiring HIV through blood transfusion to minimal levels.
Accidents in health care: A small number of health care workers who participated in the care of people with HIV infection have also acquired HIV. Usually, they were infected as a result of injuries involving needles containing the blood of people with HIV infection.
3. Mother to Infant
Women who have HIV infection can transmit the virus to their babies. Most of these infections seem to occur during pregnancy, but some may happen during the birth process. A few babies may have been infected through breast feeding.
Remember: HIV is NOT transmitted by casual contact...
You can reduce your risk of acquiring HIV by:
Making careful choices about sexual activity
Not having anal, vaginal, or oral sexual intercourse provides 100% protection against the sexual transmission of HIV.
Communicating assertively with your sexual partner and negotiating for safer sexual practices
Talking about sex can seem embarrassing and uncomfortable. Telling the truth about your sexual past may be difficult. Communicating assertively about your desires in a sexual relationship is a real challenge.
Develop skills to express your feelings and concerns
Consider in advance what you would say and do in particular situations. Asking a partner about past sexual experiences may be helpful, too, but you should not rely on that information alone. It is much safer to take precautions with every partner.
Removing alcohol and drugs from sexual activity
Alcohol and other drugs may make sexual activity seem easier; they may alleviate uncertainty, anxiety, and ambivalence, but they can eliminate decision making too. Remember, SUI (Sex Under the Influence) is dangerous just as DUI (Driving Under the Influence) is dangerous. Drunk sex is rarely safer sex.
Using latex condoms for intercourse
A latex condom should be used anytime you engage in anal or vaginal intercourse. Animal membrane (skin) condoms cannot be counted on. Condoms are not perfect, and they do not provide "safe sex." Nonetheless, a latex condom provides high levels of protection against the transmission of HIV if used properly.
Not sharing needles
Whether you use a needle to inject drugs or steroids, never share a needle used by someone else. If you use needles to inject drugs or steroids, consider seeking help, and also learning how to clean needles to reduce the likelihood of acquiring HIV.
What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is caused by infection with bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. These bacteria can infect the tissue (the “meninges”) that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and cause meningitis, or they may infect the blood or other body organs. In the US, about 2,600 people per year get meningococcal disease and 10-15% die despite receiving antibiotic treatment. Of those who survive, 11-19% may lose limbs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous system, become mentally retarded, or have seizures or strokes.
What is it?
Infectious mononucleosis - also called "mono" or "the kissing disease" - is an acute infection of the lymphatic system caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). It is usually characterized by fatigue, fever, sore throat, and swollen glands in the neck. However, some mild cases are largely asymptomatic.
Who gets "mono"?
Almost everyone, at any age, can get infectious mononucleosis. In the United States, mono is a common problem of the late teen and young adult years, with 70-80% of all documented cases occurring in people ages 15-30 years. In less developed countries, people typically get the infection at earlier ages and in milder forms.
How is it spread
The usual way of contracting mono is thought to be through contact with infected saliva on eating and drinking utensils and in kissing.
Once in the body the virus multiplies in the lymphocytes (white blood cells that form a part of the immune system).
It is thought that persons previously infected may serve as a source of virus that spreads to others. Because tracing of person to person spread is so difficult, just how long a person may be a source of infection is unknown. Communicability appears to last from some time before symptoms appear until at least the sore throat and fever disappear, and possibly longer.
The amount of time between viral exposure and the appearance of symptoms varies from 4 to 7 weeks. Roommates and household members are at only slightly increased risk of being infected.
What are the symptoms?
Early on, vague complaints of "not feeling well," headache, tiredness, puffy eyelids, and decreased appetite are common. Later, fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands at the side and back of the neck, and also under the arm and in the groin may appear. The firm, tender glands vary from bean to egg size for several days to a few weeks. A fever for about five days is usual, and may continue intermittently for one to three weeks. Tonsillitis, trouble swallowing and bleeding gums may be present. Some people may develop a rash.
[Mono in children and some adults is often unrecognized due to the mild nature of the symptoms.]
In half of all cases, the spleen, an organ under the left rib cage, will be enlarged. Liver enlargement, under the right rib, occurs about 20 percent of the time. Rarely, yellowing of the skin (jaundice) is seen. In most people, infection with EBV confers life long immunity.
Strenuous exercise, any lifting or straining, and all competitive and contact sports should be completely avoided until recovery from mono is complete. Damage to and rupture of the spleen resulting in emergency surgery and/or death has occurred in persons with mono. Patients should receive a doctor's clearance before resuming exercise, work involving physical exertion, and athletic competition. Patients whose mononucleosis is accompanied by jaundice should avoid alcohol. Rarely are there cases of death from airway obstruction, heart inflammation, or central nervous system involvement.
How is mono diagnosed?
Mono causes an increase in and some differentiation of white blood cells called lymphocytes and produces heterophile antibodies in the blood. A blood test will show more white blood cells than normal and some atypical ones. The heterophile antibodies will produce "clumping" when the infected blood is mixed with red blood cells from horses. This is called a slide agglutination "spot test" or "monospot test" or "mono test."
Sometimes the appearance of blood changes are delayed so that repeat tests may be necessary to support the diagnosis. Usually, the antibodies are present in sufficient numbers by as early as day four, but sometimes not until day 21 of the illness. Some 20% of mono sufferers may never test positive on this agglutination test and may require more involved and expensive testing to rule out other, possibly more serious conditions. In the absence of positive tests, mononucleosis may be diagnosed on symptoms alone.
How is mono treated?
Since mono is caused by a virus, it is not susceptible to antibiotic therapy. Rest, lots of fluids and a well-balanced diet are recommended. Drug treatment is targeted to specific symptoms and individual experiences. Ibuprofen is given for relief of headache, muscle pains, chills and fever. Warm, salt water gargles are recommended for sore throat. Corticosteroids are sometimes used if symptoms are severe enough to cause breathing difficulties. Sometimes bacterial infections such as strep or sinus infection can be present along with mono. If this is the case antibiotics can be helpful in treating the bacterial infection. Ampicillin or amoxicillin should not be used as it often causes an allergic - like rash in those with mononucleosis.
Acute symptoms of mono may last 7-10 days, and fatigue for 4-6 weeks. One should anticipate some limitations to normal activities during this time.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Symptoms of this chronic debilitating state are persistent or recurrent fatigue, frequent respiratory infections, sore throats, low grade fevers, swollen glands, headaches and depression. While the Ebstein-Barr virus has been suggested as one of the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome, this has not been proven.
Is there any prevention for mono?
Using hygienic measures including hand washing to prevent the spread of the virus is important. Maintaining optimum health through balanced exercise, rest, diet and getting prompt medical attention for symptoms are further ways to avoid mononucleosis and its complications.
What is Sinusitis?
- Do you have headaches in the front of your head?
- Do you have trouble breathing through your nose?
- When you blow your nose, is the mucus thick or colored or both?
- If so, you might have sinusitis- swollen or infected sinuses.
How can I tell if I have Sinusitis? You may have sinusitis if you experience:
- sinus pressure or headaches
- facial pain over the sinuses
- sore throat
- thick and/or colored mucus
- pain in the upper teeth
Many of these symptoms are common with any cold or flu. Some are common with allergies, too. Often home treatment will take care of the problem, whatever its cause.
What Can I Do?
The basic idea of treatment is to reduce swelling, keep mucus very watery and avoid irritating the sinuses further.
Drink lots of fluids.
It's good to do this all the time. But it's especially important when you have a cold, flu or allergies. A glass of water or juice each hour helps keep mucus thin.
Avoid cigarette smoke, allergens and other irritants.
Smoke not only irritates sinus membranes, it also slows the motion of the cilia.
When you blow your nose, do it gently.
Clear both nostrils at once, even if only one nostril feels stopped up or is runny.
Take a hot shower, or use a humidifier.
Warm, moist air helps, unless you're allergic to molds. Humidity encourages mold growth.
Gargle with a warm saltwater solution.
This helps relieve a sore throat.
Oral decongestants reduce sinus swelling, and often provide good relief. (Don't take decongestants if you are taking MAO-inhibiting antidepressants.)
Decongestant sprays can also bring short-term relief. But constant use has the opposite effect- your nose actually gets stuffy in response to the spray.
Don't use decongestant sprays for more than 3 days. If you've been using a spray for longer then 3 days, stop. Spray-induced stuffiness can last awhile. This warning is stated on the labels of sprays.
Use a salt-water spray to reduce swelling. You can buy one at a drugstore, or make your own. Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt in one cup lukewarm water. Sniff this solution out of the palm of your hand, or put it into a clean dropper bottle.
If you have allergies, you can prevent sinus swelling by taking over-the-counter antihistamines before exposure to allergens.
But once swelling begins, antihistamines may make it worse because they may make mucus thicker.
If you have a cold or flu, or already have sinus pressure, don't take antihistamines.
IBUPROFEN OR ACETAMINOPHEN
These medicines relieve the pain of sinus headaches. Generic medicines are cheaper and just as effective as brand names.
Read the labels. Choose medications with only those ingredients you need. Many "cold remedies" have multiple active ingredients, including some- such as antihistamines- that you might not want.
What causes sore throats
Sore throats can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. Most sore throats are caused by viruses and do not lead to serious problems. The only type of sore throat that will cause serious problems is caused by a bacterium called strep. Untreated, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever and heart disease a few weeks after the sore throat gets better.
How long should my throat be sore?
Viral and antibiotic sore throats get better by themselves within seven (7) days. Bacterial infections (strep) will get better sooner if you are taking an antibiotic.
What if I have strep throat?
An antibiotic will be prescribed for you. This will prevent rheumatic fever and heart disease if taken, as directed, no later than one (1) week after the sore throat appeared. If a close contact person has a sore throat, they should be medically evaluated.
What can I do to help throat pain?
- Increase your overall fluid intake. Very warm drinks (like tea with honey) are better than cold drinks. Cold drinks or ice pops will help your throat feel better too but “heat treats”.
- Salt water gargles (1/4 teaspoon salt / glass warm water) every hour helps throat discomfort.
- Throat lozenges, hard candy, and throat sprays (like Chloraseptic) may also help.
- Tylenol, or Ibuprofen may help throat and general discomfort.
What problems should concern me?
- If you are not better in a week;
- If you are getting worse or having trouble swallowing; or
- Any other problem that may worry you.
How long should my throat be sore?
Viral sore throats usually get better by themselves within seven (7) days. A viral sore throat with mono will last longer. Bacterial infections (strep) will get better sooner if you are taking an antibiotic and you must complete the full prescription.