The Flu; Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Get your Flu shot at the Portland Community Free Clinic!

Flu season is once again upon us. Although there are a number of different types of flu, they all have similar symptoms, but in comparison with a common cold, flu symptoms tend to be more severe. Unsure if you have the flu or the common cold? Your health care provider can give you a test to determine whether or not you have the flu.

Flu symptoms include:

  • A 100° F or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

Most experts believe that you may get the flu when exposed to someone with the flu who coughs, sneezes, or talks near you. You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold. Symptoms such as fever, body aches, tiredness, and cough are more common and intense with the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.

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When should I seek emergency medical attention?

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

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Who is at risk?

Some groups are more likely to experience complications from the seasonal flu, including:

  • Seniors (those age 65 and older)
  • Children (especially those younger than 2)
  • People with chronic health conditions

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The best protection against seasonal flu is the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is your best defense against seasonal flu. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine. You can get vaccinated for the flu at the Portland Community Free Clinic, as well as at a number of other locations.

You should also follow our everyday steps, such as:

  • Washing your hands
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

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Each year approximately 5-20% of U.S. residents get the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications, such as:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Ear or sinus infections
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of chronic health conditions

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How long does the Flu last and how long am I contagious?

Most people with the flu feel much better within one or two weeks. You can infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to a week afterwards. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be contagious for a longer period.

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Is the stomach flu really the flu?

The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease. Many people use “stomach flu” to describe illness with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Many different viruses, bacteria, or parasites can cause these symptoms. While the flu may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea (more often in children than adults), these problems are rarely the main symptoms of the flu.

Submitted by Joan F. Tryzelaar, M.D.

(Adapted from: Know what to do about the flu)

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