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ealth Hint #18

Excerpted from "A Year of Health Hints"
365 Practical Ways to Feel Better and Live Longer

"Oh, it's just a touch of the flu," some say, as if they had nothing more than a cold. Yet each year, 50,000 people die from pneumonia and other complications of the influenza virus, or flu.

Cold and flu symptoms resemble each other, but they differ in intensity. A cold generally starts out with some minor sniffling and sneezing, but the flu hits you all at once; you're fine one hour and in bed the next. A cold rarely moves into the lungs; the flu can cause pneumonia. You may be able to drag yourself to work with a cold, but with a flu you'll be too ill to leave your bed.

If the following symptoms come on suddenly and intensely, you probably have the flu.

Dry cough
Sore throat
Severe headache
General muscle aches or backache
Extreme fatigue
Fever up to 104 degrees F
Pain when you move your eyes, or a burning sensation in the eyes

The most telling symptoms in that list are fatigue and muscle aches--these are normally absent with a cold.

To avoid getting the flu in the first place, medical authorities recommend an influenza vaccination before each flu season for people over age 65 or anyone with a chronic medical illness that would hinder their ability to fight off the flu on their own. The influenza vaccine should be given in September, October or November of each year. Also, get plenty of rest, eat well, and exercise regularly to stay strong and fight off the flu.

The anti-viral medicines amantadine or rimantadine may be prescribed. [Note: In order for rimantadine to be effective, it must be taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms of the flu.] Antibiotics (to combat any bacterial infection, if also present) may also be prescribed by your doctor.

Other suggestions include:

Drink plenty of hot (but not scalding) liquids. They'll soothe your throat, relieve nasal congestion,
and replace bodily fluids lost through perspiration caused by fever.
Gargle with tepid, strong tea or warm salt water.
Suck on lozenges or hard candies to lubricate your throat. (Do not give to children under age 5.)
Don't suppress a cough that produces phlegm or sputum-it helps rid the respiratory tract of mucus.
(In other words, avoid cough suppressant medicines.) If mucus is bloody, yellow, or green, contact
your physician for advice.
Avoid drinking milk or eating cheese and other dairy products for a couple of days-they can thicken
mucus secretions, making them difficult to expel.
Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose and before handling food. (This also
helps you avoid spreading the flu virus to others.)
Take a regular dose of aspirin or aspirin substitute. (Note: Aspirin should not be given to children
under 19 years old, however, when they have chicken pox or flu-like symptoms, as it has been linked
to an increased risk of Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that is discussed in chapter 2,
Major Medical Conditions: Prevention, Detection, and Treatment.)

If the symptoms persist despite self-care efforts, see a doctor.

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