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Influenza, also known as "flu," is a common
respiratory infection that can be severe and even life-threatening. Each year
more than 36,000 persons, especially older individuals and those with chronic
medical conditions, die from influenza in the United States. The November
3, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an article reporting
that yearly influenza vaccinations reduce the risk of death among
Symptoms and signs of influenza
Fever—often a high fever of more than 102°
Fahrenheit (38.9° Celsius)
Body aches and pains
Pleuritic chest pain (pain
when you take a breath)
Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are
rare in adults with influenza. What is sometimes called "stomach flu" is actually
not caused by the flu virus. The medical term for that common condition is gastroenteritis.
Flu vs colds
Colds are also viral infections but are usually self-limited and not
life-threatening. Colds usually cause a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat,
mild cough, and sometimes mild fever.
Because influenza is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibacterial
antibiotics. Several antiviral prescription medications are available that
may help to treat influenza. These medications work best if they are taken
early in the course of the flu. They may help to decrease the length of symptoms
of influenza. These drugs cause some adverse effects, and persons with some
chronic medical problems should not take them nor should pregnant women. They
are not recommended for children younger than 1 year. Medications for pain
and fever may also be helpful in relieving flu symptoms.
Receiving flu vaccine each autumn (ideally in October or November) is
the best way to prevent influenza. Yearly vaccinations against influenza are
recommended particularly for everyone aged 65 years and older, pregnant women,
individuals with chronic medical problems (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart
disease), health care workers, persons who care for children or the elderly,
all children aged 6 to 23 months, and older children who have chronic medical
conditions or who are on chronic aspirin therapy. Children 8 years and younger
receiving the flu vaccine for the first time should receive 2 doses given
about 30 days apart.
The flu shot is made from inactivated influenza virus and cannot give
you the flu. Because influenza virus strains differ from year to year, the
influenza vaccine also varies each year. A nasal spray flu vaccine is available
for healthy persons aged 5 through 49 years who are not pregnant.
For more information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 800/232-2522 http://www.cdc.gov
American Lung Association 800/LUNGUSA (586-4872)http://www.lungusa.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient Page on flu vaccine was published in the October 4, 2000,
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute
on Aging; American Lung Association; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page
are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical
diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page
may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals
to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject
to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Torpy JM, Glass TJ, Glass RM. Influenza. JAMA. 2004;292(17):2182. doi:10.1001/jama.292.17.2182
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