Flusteria Part II: Symptoms (Yes, It’s Still Around!)

By Martin Brown

flusymptomsNow that the 24-hour news machine has drowned us all in Swine Flu coverage, known at SMW as “flusteria,” we thought it might be wise to share with our health channel readers the background and the symptoms of real, as opposed to media flu.

As to Swine Flu coverage, it was a very real strain of the flu, particularly in Mexico, where however many cases were misidentified and the actual total number of cases was greatly exaggerated to the great expense of the Mexican tourist industry and its economy as a whole, there were a handful of deaths in the US attributed and confirmed as Swine Flu, now better known at H1N1.

News coverage, however, of for example two deaths in New York, trivializes the important fact that during an average year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimate that as many as 36,000 people in the United States die of complications caused by influenza and more than 200,000 individuals are hospitalized.

This media panic was fueled by the fact that the term “influenza pandemic,” which still raises alarms bells in people that goes back 91 years to the Spanish influenza of 1918 that claimed 50 million lives worldwide.

To that end, the World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control continue to monitor the spread of H1N1, which has raised concerns with health professionals for two principal reasons: One, this strain of influenza spreads quickly. It went from confirmed cases in Mexico to cases in 74 countries in less than a month’s time.

Two, while to date H1N1 has not shown itself to be a large scale killer, it is a concern to health officials that this particular form of influenza has killed several young, and relatively young victims. Deaths of 80 year-olds is to be expected, but health officials don’t like seeing a thirty, or forty year old victim and while rare to date, H1N1 appears capable of killing these relatively young patients.

As is too often the case with ratings fueled media coverage, simple facts get pushed aside. No one right now knows if H1N1 will emerge in the fall of 2009 and winter of 2010 as a very serious global health threat, but it bares close watch and that appears to be exactly what is happening.

As for the flu itself, here are some simple facts about what is, what you should watch for, and what you should do if you’re indeed confront by it:

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system, including your nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. Influenza, commonly called the flu, is not the same as the stomach viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting.

Anyone can get the flu, but young children, older adults, people with weakened immune systems and those with chronic illnesses are especially vulnerable. If you’re at high risk of flu, your first line of defense is an annual flu shot.

Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu.

Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:

Fever over 101 F (38 C) in adults, and often as high as 103 to 105 F.
Chills and sweats
Dry cough
Muscular aches and pains, especially in your back, arms and legs
Fatigue and weakness
Nasal congestion
Loss of appetite
Diarrhea and vomiting in children

When you should see a doctor 
If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness by a day or two and may help prevent more serious problems. Seek immediate medical care if you have signs and symptoms of pneumonia. These include a severe cough that brings up phlegm, a high fever and a sharp pain in your lungs when you breathe deeply. If you have bacterial pneumonia, you’ll need treatment with antibiotics.

Finally, don’t panic. Anxiety is not of any help. Follow these self-monitoring warnings and watch for changes that indicate, as discussed above that you should seek medical attention.

The World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control are both being vigilant, as well they should be in following H1N1. You may want at times to check their websites for further information.

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