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Take precautions, It's flu season.

SANDRA, a bank teller, was very lively that night. After all, she was just promoted in her department. She partied and dined. When she returned home, she immediately went to sleep. But the following day, she felt flattened-as if ambushed from behind-with a 39- to 40-degree fever, headache, extreme fatigue, weakness, and severe aches and pains in her muscles. She went to the doctor. 'You've got flu,' she was told.

Working or playing through the flu-or influenza, to use its proper name-is impossible, unless you're the type who can walk on hot coals and feel no pain. You'll probably have to take to your bed for three or more days. But even after you recover-usually within three to seven days-you can be felt with a dragged-down feeling that can persist for weeks and is sometimes compounded by depression.

'Too few of us understand that flu is more than just an inconvenience,' writes Jane Brody in her book, Jane Brody's Cold and Flu Fighter. 'There are life-threatening risks associated with it. Consequently, too few of us take precautions to prevent contracting flu.'

The Department of Health (DOH) estimates that at least 480,000 flu cases are recorded in the Philippines. Flu season is almost simultaneous with the rainy season and so health experts always advise to get flu shots between the months of February and June. Flu reaches its peak between July and August annually.

The flu vaccine must be taken two to three months before the onset of the flu season to get the most effective immunity. Studies have shown that flu vaccination decreases the number of episodes of upper respiratory illnesses by 25 percent to 34 percent. It also reduces days of sick leave from work due to upper respiratory illnesses by 32 percent to 43 percent.

In addition, flu vaccination lessens work absenteeism due to illness by 36 percent, decreases physicians' visit for upper respiratory illness by 34 percent to 44 percent, and reduces flu-like illnesses by 25 percent.

'Flu is an acute respiratory illness caused by a virus,' explains Brody. Medical researchers divide flu viruses into three general categories: Types A, B and C. 'While all three types can mutate, or change into new strains, type A flu mutates constantly, yielding new strains of the virus,' notes The Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments.

This means that a person can never develop a permanent immunity to flu. Even if he develops antibodies against a flu virus one year, those antibodies are unlikely to protect him against a new strain of the virus the next year.

Types B and C are less common and result in local outbreaks and milder cases. Type A mutations are responsible for more epidemics every several years. It must be recalled that a never-before-seen strain of AH1N1 flu virus turned killer in Mexico and the United States, and caused some panic in other parts of the world.

H1N1 is a common subtype of swine-flu virus, although other subtypes are also circulating in pigs (example: H1N2, H3N1, H3N2). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) based in Atlanta, Georgia, has determined the AH1N1 flu virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, it could not say how easily the virus spreads between people.

Health experts claim swine can catch both avian (from birds and poultry) and human forms of a virus, and act as hosts for these different viral strains to meet and mutate into new forms. The swine then infect people with the new form of the virus in the same way in which people infect each other-by transmitting viruses through exchange of droplets in the air.

One of the oldest and most common diseases known to man, flu is a notorious killer. Hippocrates described flu in 412 BC and the first well-described pandemic of flu-like disease occurred in 1580. Since that time, 31 such possible flu pandemics have been documented, with three occurring in the 20th century: in 1918, 1957 and 1968. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic killed some 20 million to 50 million throughout the world.

In 1976, just when health experts globally were ready to close the chapter of the early 1900 plague, an American soldier mysteriously died of flu. He suffered lung bleeding and died after five days. Health officials were all shocked when autopsy reports showed that he died from the same virus that killed millions 58 years ago.

In 1988, the avian flu killed five Hong Kong locals and infected hundreds of residents, prompting health officials here to dig deeper on the real cause and activity of the bird-flu virus. No concrete information was obtained. At the same year, 27 people and 1,406 were infected by an unknown strain of pneumonia in Missouri. Experts suspected that it was direct descendant of the 1918 flu virus.

Flu is noted for being an efficient infector. All it takes is one sneeze-and a person will have it. The Merck Manual of Medical Information explains: 'The virus is spread by inhaling infected droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out by an infected person or by having direct contact with an infected person's secretions. Handling infected household articles may sometimes be responsible.'

Brody, in her book, writes: 'It spreads like a cold, primarily moving from person to person via virus-contaminated airborne droplets released by coughs, sneezes and even normal conversation. Moreover, like colds, flu can be transmitted by people who have not yet developed symptoms. The incubation period is one to three days, and during that time you can unknowingly spread the virus to someone else. Once flu symptoms develop, you remain contagious for another three to five days.'

Flu is highly contagious that no one is spared from it, even the healthy individuals, if they are exposed to the virus. 'Since it is usually spread through large groups who spend time in close contact with others-setting such as schools, day-care centers, nursing care and long-term health care facilities-school- age children, teachers, health-care associates and providers may be at risk,' said Dr. Rizal Alberto B. Nolido Jr., chairman of the council on pulmonary infections of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians.

In most instances, flu is dismissed as common cold. But both differ. The Merck manual informs: 'Flu is caused by a different virus and produces symptoms that are more severe. Also, flu affects cells much deeper down in the respiratory tract.'

Symptoms of flu start 24 to 48 hours after infection and can begin suddenly. The first clue that a person has flu is the chilly sensation. Fever is common during the first few days, and the temperature may rise to 102 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have a cold, you may feel you can carry on. But with flu, you will probably want to go to bed. 'Many people feel sufficiently ill to remain in bed,' the Merck manual notes. He will experience aches and pains throughout his body, most pronounced in the back and legs. Headache is often severe, with aching around and behind the eyes. Bright light may make your headache worse.

According to the Merck manual, the respiratory symptoms at first may be relatively mild, with a scratchy sore throat, a burning sensation in the chest, a dry cough and a runny nose. Later on, the cough can become severe and bring up sputum. The skin may be warm and flushed, especially on the face. The mouth and throat may redden, the eyes may water and the whites of the eyes may be mildly inflamed. A child experiencing flu may suffer from nausea and vomiting.

After two or three days, most symptoms disappear rapidly, and the fever usually ends-although fever sometimes last up to five days. However, bronchitis and coughing may persist for 10 days or longer, and changes in the airways may take six to eight weeks to completely resolve. Weakness and fatigue may persist for several days or occasionally for weeks.

If a person is healthy, flu usually isn't serious. But if he's very young or very old, or having a heart, lung or nervous system disease, flu can lead to life-threatening complications. Viral pneumonia is said to be the most severe complication; it can progress rapidly and cause death in as early as 48 hours, according to the Merck manual.

The main treatment for flu is to take a complete rest in a warm, well-ventilated room until the disease clears up. Staying home also avoids spreading the infection. Drinking plenty of fluids-but do not take alcohol-may help.

The best way to avoid contracting flu is through vaccination. Flu vaccination is recommended to people 60 years old and above and those with chronic conditions like lung disorders (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchiectasis), metabolic diseases, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, cardiac diseases, liver diseases, kidney diseases, and hematologic diseases.

Flu vaccination is also highly recommended to people with brain, spinal cord injury or trauma, having epilepsy, or suffering from cancer and other conditions which would weaken the immune system. Smokers, too, as they are at greater risk of getting the flu compared to non-smokers.

The flu vaccine's most common side effect is soreness at the vaccination site for up to two days. Some people may experience post-shot fever, malaise, sore muscles and other symptoms resembling the flu that can last for one to two days.

But that's much better compared to the complications of flu that a person may experience. Oftentimes, it is more expensive. 'There may be expenses for unexpected doctor's clinic or emergency room visits,' said Nolido. 'In severe situations, where complications arise, hospitalization, antibiotics and measures to stabilize the other co-morbidities will impact on increased health-care costs. There may also be increased expenses, in an indirect way, as when one has the flu, the person may be absent from work for several days.'
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jan 31, 2019
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