Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Flu (influenza, conventional, H1N1, H3N2, and bird flu [H5N1]) facts
- What is flu (influenza)?
- What are the causes of the flu (influenza)?
- What are flu (influenza) symptoms in adults and in children?
- What is the incubation period for the flu?
- How long is the flu contagious, and how long does the flu last?
- How is the flu (influenza) diagnosed?
- How does flu spread?
- What is the key to flu (influenza) prevention?
- Are there any flu shot or nasal spray vaccine side effects in adults or in children?
- How effective is the flu vaccine?
- Why should the flu (influenza) vaccine be taken every year?
- What are some flu treatments an individual can do at home (home remedies)?
- What can people eat when they have the flu?
- When should a person go to the emergency department for the flu?
- Who should receive the flu vaccine, and who has the highest risk factors? When should someone get the flu shot?
- What is the prognosis (outlook) and complications for patients who get the flu?
- What is the bird (avian) flu?
- Do antiviral agents protect people from the flu?
- What medications treat the flu?
- Is it safe to get a flu shot that contains thimerosal?
- Where can people find additional information about the flu?
- Slideshow: Finding Relief for Your Cough
- Pictures of Natural Cold & Flu Remedies - Slideshow
- Pictures of 10 Foods to Eat When You Have the Flu - Slideshow
What is the prognosis (outlook) and complications for patients who get the flu?
In general, the majority (about 90%-95%) of people who get the disease feel terrible (see symptoms) but recover with no problems. People with suppressed immune systems historically have worse outcomes than uncompromised individuals; current data suggest that pregnant individuals, children under 2 years of age, young adults, and individuals with any immune compromise or debilitation are likely to have a worse prognosis. In most outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics, the mortality rates are highest in the older population (usually above 50 years old). Complications of any flu virus infection, although relatively rare, may resemble severe viral pneumonia or the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by a coronavirus strain) outbreak in 2002-2003 in which the disease spread to about 10 countries with over 7,000 cases, over 700 deaths, and had a 10% mortality rate.
What is the bird (avian) flu?
The bird flu, also known as avian influenza and H5N1, is an infection caused by avian influenza A. Bird flu can infect many bird species, including domesticated birds such as chickens. In most cases, the disease is mild; however, some subtypes can be pathogenic and rapidly kill birds within 48 hours. Rarely, humans can be infected by these bird viruses. People who get infected with bird flu usually have direct contact with the infected birds or their waste products. Depending on the viral type, the infections can range from mild influenza to severe respiratory problems or death. Human infection with bird flu is rare but frequently fatal. More than half of those people infected (over 650 infected people) have died (current estimates of the mortality [death] rates in humans is about 60%). Fortunately, this virus does not seem to be easily passed from person to person. The major concern among scientists and physicians about bird flu is that it will change (mutate) its viral RNA enough to be easily transferred among people and produce a pandemic similar to the one of 1918. There have been several isolated instances where a person had been reported to get avian flu in 2010; the virus was detected in South Korea (three human cases), resulting in a quarantine of two farms, and in 2012, over 10,000 turkeys died in a H5N1 outbreak with no human infections recorded. Recent research suggests that some people may have had exposure to H5N1 in their past but had either mild or no symptoms.
In addition, researchers, in an effort to understand what makes an animal or bird flu become easily transmissible to humans, developed a bird flu strain that is likely easily transmitted from person to person. Although it exists only in research labs, there is controversy about both the synthesis and the scientific publication of how this potentially highly pathogenic strain was created.
Do antiviral agents protect people from the flu?
Vaccination is the primary method for control of influenza; however, antiviral agents have a role in the prevention and treatment of mainly influenza type A infection. Regardless, antiviral agents should not be considered as a substitute or alternative for vaccination. Most effectiveness of these drugs are reported to occur if the antivirals are given within the first 48 hours after infection; some researchers maintain there is little or no solid evidence these drugs can protect people from getting the flu so some controversies exist regarding these agents.
What medications treat the flu?
The CDC published the following guidance concerning antiviral medications:
Antiviral medications with activity against influenza viruses are an important adjunct to influenza vaccine in the control of influenza.
- Influenza antiviral prescription drugs can be used to treat influenza or to prevent influenza.
- Oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir are chemically related antiviral medications known as neuraminidase inhibitors that have activity against both influenza A and B viruses.
The following are the CDC recommended antiviral medications for the treatment of influenza (flu) for the 2015-2016 season are as follows: oral oseltamivir (Tamiflu), inhaled zanamivir (Relenza), and intravenous peramivir (Rapivab).
Learn more about: Rapivab
Over-the-counter medications that may help reduce symptoms include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), acetaminophen (Tylenol), NSAIDs (Advil, Motrin, Aleve), guaifenesin (Mucinex), dextromethorphan (Delsym), and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). Aspirin may be used in adults but not in children.
Individuals with the flu may also benefit from some additional bed rest, throat lozenges, and possibly nasal irrigation.
Find out what women really need.