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Another flu epidemic headed our way.


Indeed, by the time this reaches our readers, it may already be upon us, cases having recently been reported from a number of U.S. cities. Known as the Shanghai virus, this variety of Type A influenza has been sweeping Great Britain in recent weeks and is no respecter of persons, the Queen herself having fallen victim.

Influenza is not a diarrheal disease--"intestinal flu" is a misnomer. Flu is a serious disease of the respiratory tract, producing a severe dry cough, accompanied by fever, weakness and multiple aches and pains. Its danger lies in the secondary bacterial infections that ooften occur when the flu virus invades the body, making it especially hazardous to the elderly and anyone else whose breathing may already be compromised by other disease.

As with all disease, the emphasis is on prevention, and persons liable to frequent exposure to flu patients (e.g., hospital personnel) or whose age or physical condition makes them a poor risk should be immunized as soon as possible. The vaccine does not begin to provide significant protection until several weeks after it is given, because the body requires time to develop specific antibodies against the disease in response to the vaccine.

If you are exposed to flu, either because someone in your immediate family has contracted it, or it is already rampant in your community, and you are in the high-risk group, your doctor can prescribe amantadine, a drug used both to prevent or treat Type A influenza. As a preventive, amantadine is as effective as the vaccine and has the added advantage of providing immediate protection. It should be started as promptly as possible after known exposure to a case of flu and continued for 10 days. If Type A flu vaccine is unavailable, or if medical reasons prohibit its usage, amantadine can be continued as long as 90 days for those continuously or repeatedly exposed to the disease during an epidemic.

Amantadine should be started within 24-48 hours and continued for 24-48 hours after symptoms are gone. Although the drug produces side effects in some patients (e.g., insomnia, dizziness, nausea), these are not usually severe and can sometimes be relieved by lowering the daily dosage. Similarly, persons more than 65 years of age and those with certain medical problems can take a lower dosage. The drug, also used to treat Parkinson's disease, is available in generic form, as well as the brand name, Symmetrel - which may cost twice that of the generic. Finally, it should be noted that amantadine is not effective against any viral respiratory infections other than Type A influenza.

If you get flu, yet feel well enough to work or otherwise go out in public, don't. The disease is transmitted by droplet infection from one human to another, and flu victims should stay at home, however mild their infections may be. Treatment includes bed rest, lots of fluids to help liquefy lung secretions (plus a cough medicine containing guaifenesin), aspirin for fever, and amantadine, if prescribed by a physician, as well as antibiotics if secondary bacterial infection occurs. Small children should not be given aspirin, however. As with chicken pox, aspirin given to small children may lead to Reye's syndrome.
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Title Annotation:Shanghai virus variety of Type A influenza
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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