As many as 36,000 Americans die each year from what’s commonly known as the flu, and another 150,000 are hospitalized.

You’re exposed to the flu when someone who’s infected with the influenza virus coughs or sneezes, or you touch something they have handled. That’s why the flu spreads rapidly anywhere people congregate: schools, childcare centers, offices, nursing homes, buses, even luxury cruise ships.

The flu virus attacks your respiratory system. This leads to the symptoms you commonly experience with the flu. Some signs and symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat, may seem like a common cold. But if you have a fever of 101 F or more, it’s more likely you have influenza. Other signs and symptoms of influenza include: chills and sweats, dry cough, muscular aches and pains, fatigue and weakness, nasal congestion, and loss of appetite.

If you do come down with the flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:

• Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration.

• Get more sleep.

• Try chicken soup. It contains ingredients that really can help relieve flu symptoms by breaking up congestion.

• Use an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) cautiously, as needed.

See your healthcare provider right away if you have flu symptoms. For some people, drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors may help shorten the flu’s duration and intensity. Other antiviral drugs, such as amantadine (Symmetrel), may help reduce the duration and severity of type A influenza, but may also cause side effects. To be effective, antiviral drugs need to be taken no later than 24 to 48 hours after you first notice symptoms.

In addition, seek medical help if you have trouble breathing, a sever sore throat, a cough that produces a lot of green or yellow mucus, or you feel faint. See your healthcare provider immediately if you think you might have signs or symptoms of pneumonia. These may include a severe cough that brings up phlegm, a high fever and a sharp pain when you breathe deeply. If you have bacterial pneumonia, you’ll need treatment with antibiotics.

Immunization against the flu is a great way to help bolster your immunity against the virus. Flu vaccine is still available. Contact your health care provider to learn more.

Dr. Travis Roethler, P.A.-C., works with family medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System in Faribault. Reach him at 507-333-3300.

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