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Influenza virus symptoms and treatment

Influenza or the flu, is a viral infection which can strike at any time of year. However, in the UK, autumn and winter are the most active seasons for the flu virus. These are also the seasons when migratory birds bring with them an increased threat of avian bird flu.

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What is influenza?

The flu is a contagious virus that is spread from one person to another through tiny droplets that are released into the air when a person infected with the flu coughs or sneezes. Sometimes, people can become infected by touching their nose or mouth after touching something infected by the flu virus.

What are the symptoms?

Most people find it difficult to tell the difference between flu symptoms and cold symptoms. The flu is generally more severe and the symptoms come on a lot quicker. Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, cough, sore throat and muscle aches. When someone has a cold, they're still able to get about and usually recover fully after about a week. Flu can cause serious complications, including pneumonia, and can even be fatal.

Who is at the most risk?

Anyone can get the flu, however, certain people are more vulnerable than others to the harm the virus can cause and are advised to have a flu vaccination. They include:

•  Everyone over the age of 65

•  People of any age with lung diseases (such as asthma), heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes or lowered immunity

•  Anyone living in a residential or nursing home

•  Carers of those at risk of the complications of the flu

Treatments available

The flu is a virus so antibiotics are of no use. The flu is preventable and treatable with the antiviral medication Tamiflu. It works by stopping the virus sticking onto cells in the upper respiratory tract.

Tamiflu is for treating adults and children of 1 year of age and older with the flu whose flu symptoms started within the last day or two. The antiviral is also used to reduce the chance of getting the flu in those aged 12 months and older Tamiflu can reduce the chance of getting the flu if there is a flu outbreak in the community. Relenza is another effective antiviral medicine. Its active ingredient zanamivir inihibits the spread of the virus. The drug is inhaled in poweder form thus acts directly on the main site of infection, the upper airways.

The best way to treat the symptoms of flu is by getting plenty of rest, fluids and paracetamol - to lower a high temperature and relieve aches