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The flu, also known as influenza, is a disease that is extremely common and has been for many years.  However, this viral infection that is known as the flu used to be much more serious to general public health than it currently is today.  The purpose of this article is to give a general overview of the flu, including the symptoms and means of treating the flu.  It will also include a brief summary of the flu shot, including flu symptoms and why you may wish to get any of the flu shots that are offered from year to year.  As always, articles of this nature or only meant for general information purposes as a primer or starting place from where you can move to other reputable sources of information in order to ensure that you have the most update and best information possible for making important decisions that can affect your health.  Ultimately, your number one most accessible source and reputable source for medical information is a licensed, trained and certified health care professional such as your family physician.


The flu was once a much more common disease than it is today.  In one of the worst cases of the flu, the 1918 influenza pandemic (a pandemic being an outbreak of a disease that spreads all over the world), according to the Mayo Clinic, caused a death toll of millions, including approximately half a million deaths in the United States alone.  In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent have reported the following statistics: that each year 36, 000 individuals die in the United States alone from complications due to an infection of the flue and in addition although that many individuals die from flu infections, more than six times that number are hospitalised in the United States of America each year.


What is the Flu and What are the Symptoms of the Flu?


The flu is a common disease and as such the symptoms may be known to many people.  However, just to overview what they are, you should look out for a number of combined symptoms.  Not in all cases will all of these symptoms be present but in all cases some of them will be present.  The most common of these symptoms includes a fever, which though higher in children, is in all cases considered to be over one hundred and one degrees  Fahrenheit, although in some cases the fever may be a few degrees higher.  In addition to the fever, there may also be present chills and or even sweats as well as a cough (dry), headache and pains and aches in the muscles of the back and limbs.  On top of those symptoms it is also possible that there will be some digestive discomforts such as diarrhea, as well as the potential feeling of congestion in the nasal passages.


What causes these symptoms is the flue virus, which infects the respiratory system, which is the system that is involved in respiration.  The respiratory system includes the lungs, nasal passages and throat – all of the areas involved in respiration.  There are a number of strains of the influenza virus, although there is not a great deal of difference in the resulting infection from strain to strain although in general strain A has been responsible for the worst outbreaks, B for more localised ones and C ultimately being quite rare.  The flu is a virus that is constantly changing and as such each year there are new flu shots available to treat it.  However, as a result of the dynamic nature of this virus no flu shot gives you a guarantee of not receiving the flu from an infected individual in any given flu season.  This is not to say that the flu shot is not an effective means of treating the flu, but that one should not be unrealistic about the potential outcomes of receiving such a shot.


Generally, one of the more common risk factors for the flu is being in contact with children, people or areas characterised by poor hygiene or yourself having a compromised immune system due to old age or other disease, the more significantly HIV/AIDS as those with weakened immune systems may contract the flu as an opportunistic disease that their bodies might otherwise be able to fight off.


How to Treat the Flu


In general, the flu, when contracted by healthy individuals, does not require much special treatment outside of the need to remain healthy, practice good hygiene such as the washing of hands and to get bed rest and remain hydrated.  In cases where a flu infection is thought to be more serious it may be recommended that the patient in question be administered anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir).  However, in most cases this is not necessary.  It is recommended that at any time that you feel symptoms should warrant it though definitely in cases where the symptoms are severe that a qualified health care professional such as your family physician be contacted.  Finally, one of the best ways to avoid contracting the flu is to get a flu shot each flu season.  These can be administered either by your doctor or at any number of health care clinics that offer this service each year.


Stomach Flu


In a final note, it should be taken into consideration when deciding if you have the flu that the disease or disorder more commonly known as the stomach flu is not in fact related to the influenza virus.  This gastrointestinal disorder, which is most often characterized by an inflammation of a section of the gastrointestinal tract, may have a number of other causes, though the influenza virus is not thought to be one of them.  The similarities between the names of these two separate disease is not related to the cause or type of disease and is due to a different, potentially etymological confusion or simply a matter of public misusage of the term flu for a disease more generally.