The Flu and Flu Shot

Millions of people suffer from the flu every winter. The flu, or influenza, is caused by viruses, which are very small germs. Some viruses including the one that causes the flu are easily spread among people. The flu can present as a relatively minor illness in young,healthy people; but it can become a very serious illness in senior citizens,particularly those with a history of conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
Flu symptoms generally last for one to two weeks, but the flu can become more serious than that. While your body is working to fight off the flu, you may be more susceptible to other infections such as pneumonia. Senior citizens are especially likely to face experience complications with the flu.
The flu is highly contagious and easily spreads from person to person, often through the air. It is possible foryou to spread the flu to someone else before you even feel symptoms, and you remain contagious for several days after you begin to feel ill. You may contract the flu if someone has the illness and sneezes or coughs near you. It is also possible to get the flu if you touch something that has the flu virus on it(like a doorknob or phone) and then touch your nose or mouth.
The virus can exist on surfaces for hours, so it is very important to wash your hands well when you know you have been in contact with someone who has the flu. Be sure to always wash your hands before eating and touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you can, try to stay away from someone you know is sick.
Distinguishing Between the Flu and a Cold
Although flu and colds have similar symptoms, they can be differentiated by a few traits. A cold is usually milder than the flu; but since the flu can cause serious problems, it is important to recognize the differences.
Normal symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, dry cough, aches and pains, headache, and fatigue. Some people with the flu may experience sore throat, sneezing, stuffy nose, or stomach problems, but those symptoms are not as common. The flu is a different virus from what some people call the "stomach flu," which mainly causes digestive problems.
Getting an annual flu shot, which contains the flu vaccine, can help you stay in good health. Many insurance plans will pay for the shot, which you can get at a doctor's office or the local health department. Many grocery stores and pharmacies also offer the flu shot during a certain time of year. Although the shot cannot guarantee health for everyone, getting the shot every year can decrease the likelihood of catching the flu or minimize symptoms if you do catch it.
It is recommended that senior citizens age 50 and older should get a flu shot once a year. Additionally, anyone who lives with or provides the elder care for a senior citizen should also get the flu shot each year.
The peak season for getting the flu,referred to as "flu season," is November through April. Since the effects of the shot begin to work two weeks after you receive the vaccine, you should aim to get the shot in October or early November. If you cannot get a flu shot before flu season begins, it is still a good idea to get the shot.
The flu virus changes often, each year it is a bit different from the previous year. The vaccine is changed each year to reflect the changes in the virus. This is one of the reasons to get vaccinated every year.
Most people do not experience side effects associated with getting the flu shot, and getting vaccinated is safer than contracting the flu. Some common reactions to the shot are soreness,redness, or swelling at the site of injection for up to two days after getting the shot. Some people experience a headache or low-grade fever for about a day after they get the shot. Getting the flu shot cannot give you the flu.
Since eggs are used to make the vaccine, if you are allergic to eggs, you may have a severe reaction to the shot and should not get vaccinated.
If you catch the flu, call your physician to ask about possible treatments that can help. Be sure to mention other medications you are taking such as drugs to fight cancer or other medicines that may weaken your body's immune system. Prescription drugs called antivirals are used to treat the flu. Taking antivirals within 48 hours of flu onset can decrease the amount of time you feel sick.
Check with your doctor as soon as you feel any flu-like symptoms. Also call your doctor if:

Your fever goes away and then returns - this could signal a more serious infection.You experience breathing or heart problems or other serious health problems.You do not feel well and are not getting better.You develop a cough that makes thick mucus.

Antivirals can also be useful in preventing the flu. If you are aware of a flu outbreak in your area, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for an antiviral. Prevention is key,and the first choice for flu prevention is the flu shot.
If you are sick, make sure to allow yourself ample rest and get enough fluids like juice and water while avoiding alcohol. Medicine such as aspirin or acetaminophen can control fever and lessen the aches and pains associated with flu. Smoking cigarettes should be avoided while you have the flu because it is a respiratory illness that affects your lungs and nasal passages, which are the same areas that are irritated by smoking. Make an effort to take it easy until you feel better.
The Bird Flu
Differentkinds of flu viruses appear from time to time, including the "bird" or "avian"flu. This is an example of how changes in the flu virus can lead to more serious illness. The bird flu, however, is very rare in people, and in mostcases it has not spread from person to person. This suggests that it may not become widespread in humans, but that may change over time. New vaccines tohelp protect people from the bird flu are in the works. Presently, the flu shotdoes not protect you from the avian flu.
Key Points

The flu can be dangerous for senior citizens.There are ways to prevent the flu.Senior citizens over 50 should get the flu shot every year.Medicare covers the cost of the flu shot.The flu shot is safe.