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Flu season survival guide

By Wire services
Published December 12, 2003


From AP:
Flu interactive graphic

It's in the air

Influenza is spread when a person who has the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, sending the virus into the air and other people inhale it. It can be spread by touching a surface, such as a door handle, that has flu viruses on it and then touching your nose or mouth. The flu season generally runs from November through March. Typical symptoms have an onset of one to four days. An infection is considered contagious for up to five days after symptoms appear.

Tips to stay healthy

- Get the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is still a good idea even though the vaccine this year does not specifically target the strain that is causing problems. Most experts agree the vaccine will provide some protection and might lessen the severity of the illness.

- Wash your hands with warm water and soap often throughout the day. Antibacterial gels and wipes can also help. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

- Turn your head away from others and cough or sneeze into a tissue. If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow.

- Keep young children or those with immune system problems away from large crowds.

- Stay at least 3 feet away from anyone with a cold or the flu.

- Make sure day care and schools are keeping sick children at home.

- Clean frequently touched surfaces, including door knobs and phones, if someone in your home has a cold or the flu.

Getting through it

Drink fluids, rest and stay home to avoid spreading the infection. Over-the-counter medications including pain relievers, decongestants and antihistamines can ease symptoms. Aspirin should not be given to children because some forms of flu are associated with Reye's syndrome, a serious illness that can follow a viral infection.

You also can ask your doctor about antiviral drugs to combat flu. Four - Tamiflu, Relenza, Symmetrel and Flumadine - are on the market, but they are only moderately helpful, said Dr. Debra Birnkrant, head of antivirals for the Food and Drug Administration.

- Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Associated Press

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