Monday, August 10, 2009


What is swine flu?

Like people, pigs can get influenza (flu), but swine flu viruses aren't the same as human flu viruses. Swine flu doesn't often infect people, and the rare human cases that have occurred in the past have mainly affected people who had direct contact with pigs. But the current "swine flu" outbreak is different. It's caused by a new swine flu virus that has changed in ways that allow it to spread from person to person -- and it's happening among people who haven't had any contact with pigs.

That makes it a human flu virus. To distinguish it both from flu viruses that infect mainly pigs and from the seasonal influenza A H1N1 viruses that have been in circulation for many years, the CDC calls the virus "novel influenza A (H1N1) virus" and the World Health Organization calls it "pandemic (H1N1) 2009." The CDC calls swine flu illness "H1N1 flu" and the World Health Organization calls it "pandemic influenza A (H1N1)."

What are swine flu symptoms?

Symptoms of swine flu are like regular flu symptoms and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Many people with swine flu have had diarrhea and vomiting. Nearly everyone with flu has at least two of these symptoms. But these symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions. That means that you and your doctor can't know, just based on your symptoms, if you've got swine flu. Health care professionals may offer a rapid flu test, although a negative result doesn't necessarily mean you don't have the flu.

Like seasonal flu, pandemic swine flu can cause neurologic symptoms in children. These events are rare, but, as cases associated with seasonal flu have shown, they can be very severe and often fatal. Symptoms include seizures or changes in mental status (confusion or sudden cognitive or behavioral changes). It's not clear why these symptoms occur, although they may be caused by Reye's syndrome. Reye's syndrome usually occurs in children with a viral illness who have taken aspirin -- something that should always be avoided.

Only lab tests can definitively show whether you've got swine flu. State health departments can do these tests. But given the large volume of samples coming in to state labs, these tests are being reserved for patients with severe flu symptoms. Currently, doctors are reserving antiviral drugs for people with or at risk of severe influenza.

Who is at highest risk from H1N1 swine flu?

Most U.S. cases of H1N1 swine flu have been in older children and young adults. It's not clear why, and it's not clear whether this will change.

But certain groups are at particularly high risk of severe disease or bad outcomes if they get the flu:

  • Young children, especially those under 12 months of age
  • Elderly people are at high risk of severe flu disease. But relatively few swine flu cases have been seen in people over age 65.
  • People with cardiovascular conditions (except high blood pressure)
  • People with liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • People with blood disorders, including sickle cell disease
  • People with neurologic disorders
  • People with neuromuscular disorders
  • People with metabolic disorders, including diabetes
  • People with immune suppression, including HIV infection and medications that suppress the immune system, such as cancer chemotherapy or anti-rejection drugs for transplants
  • Residents of a nursing home or other chronic-care facility

People in these groups should seek medical care as soon as they get flu symptoms.

A striking number of adults who developed severe swine flu complications have been morbidly obese. However, obesity itself does not seem to be the issue. The vast majority of extremely obese people suffer respiratory problems and/or diabetes, which seem to be the underlying reason for their severe flu complications.

If I think I have swine flu, what should I do? When should I see my doctor?

If you have flu symptoms, stay home, and when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Afterward, throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. That will help prevent your flu from spreading

If you have only mild flu symptoms, you do not need medical attention unless your illness gets worse. But if you are in one of the groups at high risk of severe disease, contact your doctor at the first sign of flu-like illness. In such cases, the CDC recommends that people call or email their doctor before rushing to an emergency room.

But there are emergency warning signs.

Children should be given urgent medical attention if they:

  • Have fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Have bluish or gray skin color
  • Are not drinking enough fluid
  • Are not waking up or not interacting
  • Have severe or persistent vomiting
  • Are so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough
  • Have fever with a rash
  • Have a fever and then have a seizure or sudden mental or behavioral change.

Adults should seek urgent medical attention if they have:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then come back with worsening fever or cough

Keep in mind that your doctor will not be able to determine whether you have swine flu, but he or she may take a sample from you and send it to a state health department lab for testing to see if it's swine flu. If your doctor suspects swine flu, he or she would be able to write you a prescription for Tamiflu or Relenza.

These antiviral medications aren't a question of life or death for the vast majority of people. Most U.S. swine flu patients have made a full recovery without antiviral drugs.

How does swine flu spread? Is it airborne?

The new swine flu virus apparently spreads just like regular flu. You could pick up germs directly from droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person, or by touching an object they recently touched, and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose, delivering their germs for your own infection. That's why you should make washing your hands a habit, even when you're not ill. Infected people can start spreading flu germs up to a day before symptoms start, and for up to seven days after getting sick, according to the CDC.

The swine flu virus can become airborne if you cough or sneeze without covering your nose and mouth, sending germs into the air. Ferret studies suggest that swine flu spreads less easily by small, airborne droplets than does seasonal flu. But it does spread by this route, and it may begin to spread even more readily as the new virus fully adapts to humans.

The new swine flu virus is a human virus spread by people and not by pigs. The only way to get the new swine flu is from another person.

How is swine flu treated?

Pandemic swine flu virus is sensitive to the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. The CDC recommends those drugs to prevent or treat swine flu; the drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms. But not everyone needs those drugs. Most people who have come down with swine flu have recovered without treatment. The federal government has replenished state stockpiles of Tamiflu and Relenza in preparation for the fall flu season. Health officials have asked people not to hoard Tamiflu or Relenza.

Tamiflu or Relenza may also be used to prevent swine flu. The CDC recommends this "can be considered" for people at high risk of severe flu illness who come into close contact with someone who has the flu.

Is there a vaccine against the new swine flu virus?

Not yet. But vaccines are being made in large quantities. Clinical tests will begin in August 2009. Depending on how long federal officials wait for the results of these tests, tens of millions of doses of swine flu vaccine could be ready as soon as September 2009, with more vaccine becoming available each month thereafter.

Even if officials decide to make a swine flu vaccine for this winter, many questions remain. It's not yet clear whether people will need one or two shots or whether an immune-boosting substance called adjuvant will have to be used.

The first doses of vaccine likely will go to critically important workers such as first responders and essential military personnel. Also likely to be at the front of the line are pregnant women and young children ages 6 months to 4 years, with older school kids to follow.

Spurred by the safety concerns that sank vaccination efforts during the 1976 swine-flu scare, federal officials are increasing efforts to track the safety of a pandemic flu vaccine. In addition to beefing up the CDC's vaccine adverse-event surveillance system, health-care organizations and the U.S. military will be helping track vaccine safety.

I had a flu vaccine this season. Am I protected against swine flu?

No. This season's flu vaccine does not protect against the new swine flu virus.

Whether or not there's a swine flu vaccine this winter, there will be a new seasonal flu vaccine in the fall. This year, it will be more important than ever to get a flu shot. It may not protect against swine flu -- but it will keep you and others from getting the seasonal flu viruses that kill some 36,000 Americans each year.

How can I prevent swine flu infection?

The CDC recommends taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid close contact -- that is, being within 6 feet -- with people who have flu-like symptoms.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. That's not easy to do, so keep those hands clean.
  • If you have flu-like symptoms -- fever plus at least cough or sore throat or other flu symptoms -- stay home for seven days after symptoms begin or until you've been symptom-free for 24 hours -- whichever is longer.
  • Wear a face mask (consider using an N95 respirator) if you must come into close contact with a sick person. "Close contact" means within 6 feet. Note: There is no definitive proof that a face mask prevents flu transmission. Do not rely solely on a face mask to prevent infection.
  • Wear an N95 respirator if helping a sick person with a nebulizer, inhaler, or other respiratory treatment. Note: There is no definitive proof that a respirator prevents flu transmission. Do not rely solely on a respirator to prevent infection.
  • People who have or are suspected of having swine flu should wear a face mask, if available and tolerable, when sharing common spaces with other household members, when outside the home, or when near children or infants.
  • Breastfeeding mothers with swine flu symptoms should express their breast milk, and the child should be fed by someone else.

Should I wear a face mask or respirator?

Short answer: Maybe. Face masks and respirators may very well offer extra protection, but should not be your first line of defense against either pandemic or seasonal flu.

Every day, newspapers carry pictures of people wearing face masks to prevent swine flu transmission. But very little is known about whether face masks actually protect against the flu.

There's a difference between a face mask and a respirator. A face mask does not seal tightly to the face. Face masks include masks labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, or laser masks. Respirators are N95- or higher-rated filtering face pieces that fit snugly to the face. Respirators filter out virus particles when correctly adjusted -- which is not as simple as it sounds. But it's hard to breathe through them for extended periods, and they cannot be worn by children or by people with facial hair.

Should I wear a face mask or respirator? continued...

People who have flu-like symptoms should carry disposable tissues to cover their coughs and sneezes. When going out in public, or when sharing common spaces around the home with family members, they should put on a face mask -- if one is available and tolerable.

People not at risk of severe flu illness can best protect themselves from swine flu with frequent hand washing and by staying at least 6 feet away from people with flu symptoms. But if swine flu is circulating in the community, a face mask or respirator may be protective in crowded public places.

People at increased risk of severe flu illness -- pregnant women, for example -- should add a face mask to these tried-and-true precautions when providing assistance to a person with flu-like illness. And anyone else who cannot avoid close contact with someone who has swine flu (if you must hold a sick infant, for example) may try using a face mask or respirator.

How long does the flu virus survive on surfaces?

Flu bugs can survive for hours on surfaces. One study showed that flu viruses can live for up to 48 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel and for up to 12 hours on cloth and tissues. The virus seems to survive for only minutes on your hands -- but that's plenty of time for you to transfer it to your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Can I still eat pork?

Yes. You can't get swine flu by eating pork, bacon, or other foods that come from pigs.

What else should I be doing during the swine flu pandemic?

Keep informed of what's going on in your community. Your state and local health departments may have important information if swine flu develops in your area. For instance, parents might want to consider what they would do if their child's school temporarily closed because of flu. Don't panic, but a little planning wouldn't hurt.

Here's the advice from the U.S. government's web site:

To plan for a pandemic:

  • Store a two-week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.
  • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
  • Volunteer with local groups to prepare and assist with emergency response.
  • Get involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic.

What else should I be doing during the swine flu pandemic? continued...

Items to have on hand for an extended stay at home:

Examples of food and non-perishables

Examples of medical, health, and emergency supplies

• Ready-to-eat canned meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups

• Prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood-pressure monitoring equipment

• Protein or fruit bars

• Soap and water, or alcohol-based (60-95%) hand wash

• Dry cereal or granola

• Medicines for fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

• Peanut butter or nuts

• Thermometer

• Dried fruit

• Anti-diarrheal medication

• Crackers

• Vitamins

• Canned juices

• Fluids with electrolytes

• Bottled water

• Cleansing agent/soap

• Canned or jarred baby food and formula

• Flashlight

• Pet food

• Batteries

• Other non-perishable items

• Portable radio

• Manual can opener

• Garbage bags

• Tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers

How severe is swine flu?

The severity of cases in the current swine flu outbreak has varied widely, from mild cases to fatalities. Most U.S. cases have been mild, but there have been a number of deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations -- mostly in young people aged 5 to 24.

Like seasonal flu, children who get swine flu can have serious neurological complications such as seizures and Reye's syndrome. But as with seasonal flu, these complications fortunately are rare.

Studies of the swine flu virus show that it is more infectious to lung cells than are seasonal flu viruses. But studies also suggest that the swine flu virus is less well adapted to humans and may be harder to inhale deep into the lungs.

Flu viruses change all the time, and the way the pandemic swine flu virus evolved suggests that it is particularly liable to swap gene segments with other flu viruses. But so far the swine flu virus hasn't changed much. That's good news, as the vast majority of swine flu cases have been mild. And it's also good news for the swine flu vaccine, which is based on swine flu strains isolated early in the pandemic.

It's impossible to know whether the virus will become more deadly. Scientists are watching closely to see which way the new swine flu virus is heading -- but health experts warn that flu viruses are notoriously hard to predict.

But there's a lot of planning you can do. CDC officials predict that just about every U.S. community will have H1N1 swine flu cases. It's possible some schools in your community may temporarily close, or even that major gatherings may be canceled. So make contingency plans just in case you are affected. For more information on preparedness planning, see the U.S. government's web site.

Why has the swine flu infection been more severe in Mexico than in other countries?

That's not clear yet. Researchers around the world are investigating the differences between the cases in Mexico and those elsewhere. The data so far suggests that many more people in Mexico had mild swine flu infections than had originally been appreciated.

Have there been previous swine flu oubtreaks?

Yes. There was a swine flu outbreak at Fort Dix, N.J., in 1976 among military recruits. It lasted about a month and then went away as mysteriously as it appeared. As many as 240 people were infected; one died.

The swine flu that spread at Fort Dix was the H1N1 strain. That's the same flu strain that caused the disastrous flu pandemic of 1918-1919, resulting in tens of millions of deaths worldwide.

Concern that a new H1N1 pandemic might return in winter 1976 led to a crash program to create a vaccine and vaccinate all Americans against swine flu. That vaccine program ran into all kinds of problems -- not the least of which was public perception that the vaccine caused excessive rates of dangerous reactions. That may not have been the case. But after more than 40 million people were vaccinated, the effort was abandoned.

As it turned out, there was no swine flu epidemic.

Even though it's an H1N1 type A flu bug, the new swine flu is a different virus than the ones that emerged in 1918 and in 1976 -- and from the seasonal type A H1N1 virus that has been circulating for many years.

There have been two flu pandemics since 1918 -- one that began in 1957, and another that began in 1968.

I was vaccinated against the 1976 swine flu virus. Am I still protected?

Probably not. The new swine flu virus is different from the 1976 virus. And it's not clear whether a vaccine given more than 30 years ago would still be effective.

How many people have swine flu?

That's a hard question to answer because the figure is changing so quickly. If you want to keep track of U.S. cases that have been confirmed by lab tests and reported to the CDC, check the CDC's web site. The CDC uses a rule of thumb that for every confirmed case of flu, there are about 20 more undetected cases -- but that's just a rule of thumb, not a scientific count.

Because confirmed cases are just the tip of the iceberg, both the CDC and the World Health Organization will soon stop announcing confirmed case counts. Instead, they'll provide more useful information, such as where the swine flu is widespread and whether particular states and nations have unusually high numbers of flu cases and flu-related deaths.

How serious is the public health threat of a swine flu epidemic?

The U.S. government has declared swine flu to be a public health emergency. The World Health Organization considers it a global emergency.

It remains to be seen how severe swine flu will be in the U.S. and elsewhere, but countries worldwide are monitoring the situation closely and preparing for worst-case scenarios.

How serious is the public health threat of a swine flu epidemic? continued...

The World Health Organization has declared swine flu to be a pandemic. That means that all nations can expect to see swine flu infections -- and should prepare for them -- but does not mean the virus has become more severe.

The H1N1 swine flu outbreak came at the end of the U.S. flu season. The virus spread across the nation and around the globe in the spring and summer, seasons when flu usually ebbs to nearly undetectable levels in the Northern Hemisphere.

Nobody knows how bad the swine flu will be when flu season begins again this fall -- or even earlier, when children return to school. But the CDC is warning Americans to prepare for a bad flu season this fall. It's better to over-prepare and look a little silly if nothing happens than to be unprepared for an emergency.

Scientists are closely watching the Southern Hemisphere, where normal flu season peaks in August. While swine flu has caused problems from Australia to Argentina -- with some hospitals filled to capacity with flu cases -- the virus has not yet become more deadly or more resistant to antiviral drugs.

WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti contributed to this report.

Flu Symptoms: What You Might Feel

Are you wondering if you have seasonal flu or swine flu? While seasonal or swine flu symptoms often mimic a cold, a common cold rarely causes a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Let's learn more about flu symptoms -- including swine flu symptoms -- so you are fully prepared if you get sick.

Why do I need to know about flu symptoms?

Flu -- whether seasonal flu or swine flu -- is an acute respiratory infection caused by a variety of flu viruses. At least so far, the symptoms of swine flu have been quite similar to the signs of the average seasonal flu. It's important to understand flu symptoms so you can seek immediate treatment, especially if you have a chronic medical condition.

The earlier you recognize that you have the flu can also make a difference in how long it lasts. Newer prescription medications called antiviral drugs -- zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu) -- are most effective when given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. These flu drugs are effective against the typical strains of seasonal flu as well as swine flu. They can decrease the duration of the flu by 1 day if used within this early window. These antivirals are usually given for a period of about 5 to 7 days.

How will I know flu season has started?

Seasonal flu follows a fairly predictable pattern, starting in the fall and ending in the spring. A good sign that seasonal flu season has started is the sudden increase in the number of school-aged children sick at home with flu-like illness. This initial flu outbreak is soon followed by similar infection in other age groups, especially adults.

How are flu symptoms different from symptoms with colds?

Unlike symptoms of a common cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. Whether seasonal flu or swine flu, it usually starts with the abrupt onset of fever, headache, fatigue, and body aches. Here's a list of flu symptoms you might feel:

  • fever (usually high)
  • severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
  • generalized weakness
  • ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • headache
  • dry cough
  • sore throat and watery discharge from your nose

Seasonal influenza is not normally associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea and vomiting, at least not in adults. However, these symptoms appear to be more common with swine flu. For more information, see WebMD's Flu Symptoms or Cold?

What are common flu symptoms in children?

Typical signs of seasonal or swine flu in children include high-grade fever up to 104 degrees F (40 degrees C), chills, muscle aches, headaches, sore throat, dry cough, and just plain feeling sick. Swine flu may also cause vomiting and diarrhea. These flu symptoms usually last for 3 to 4 days, but cough and tiredness may linger for up to 2 weeks after the fever has gone away. Other family members or close contacts often have a similar illness.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Children and Flu.

What about flu symptoms in infants and toddlers?

In young children, seasonal or swine flu symptoms may be similar to those of other respiratory tract infections such as croup, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea are frequently observed in young children. Vomiting tends to be more significant than diarrhea. Fever is usually high and irritability may be prominent.

In infants, flu symptoms often go unrecognized because the flu signs and symptoms are not specific and may suggest a bacterial infection. Flu in infants younger than 6 months is less common, but symptoms include lethargy, poor feeding, and poor circulation.

Because young children are at increased risk of getting severe flu complications, the CDC recommends that all children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday get a seasonal flu vaccine every fall or winter. As of now, there is no vaccine available for swine flu.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Children and Flu.

Are there complications with flu symptoms?

According to the CDC, complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Complications.

When to Call the Doctor About Flu

If you just came down with miserable flu symptoms, you may wonder when to call the doctor. Sooner is better than later in case your doctor thinks you would benefit from flu medications that can help shorten the duration of the flu.

What Are Common Flu Symptoms?

The first challenge is determining if you have flu symptoms. If you have these symptoms, give your doctor a call. Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever (usually over 102 degrees)
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (much more common among children than adults)

In addition, if you've had the flu for a few days and then get worse, call your doctor immediately. These symptoms may indicate a secondary or bacterial infection with flu. Call your doctor if:

  • Your fever returns
  • Your fever lasts for longer than three days
  • You have difficulty breathing
  • You cannot stop vomiting and can't keep liquids down
  • You wheeze when you breathe
  • Your flu symptoms are worsening each day

If you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, asthma, COPD, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, it's important to call your doctor when the first flu symptoms appear as flu might increase the risk of serious problems associated with your chronic condition. For instance, if you have asthma and flu, you may need to boost your asthma medications and asthma inhalers to prevent an asthma attack. Your doctor can instruct you.

Also, seek emergency medical help if you or a loved one is extremely short of breath or has a severe headache or stiff neck.

What Flu Tests Will My Doctor Use?

Most of the time, a flu diagnosis is made by the person's symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may also run flu tests to make an accurate flu diagnosis. These tests usually involve taking a swab from your mouth and culturing this to identify the flu virus. Rapid flu tests may give your doctor results in about five to 30 minutes. Your doctor may prefer to use a rapid flu test before prescribing flu drugs, which must be taken within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms.

What Antiviral Drugs Will My Doctor Prescribe for the Flu?

According to the CDC, two flu antiviral drugs are recommended for use in the United States. These antiviral drugs are Tamiflu and Relenza.

  • Tamiflu is approved for prevention and treatment of flu in people 1 year old and older.
  • Relenza is approved to treat flu in people 7 years old and older and to prevent flu in people 5 years old and older.

Tamiflu and Relenza must be given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. These flu drugs can decrease the duration of the flu by one day if used within this early time period. They are usually given for about five days.

Your doctor will determine if you can take antiviral drugs with a flu diagnosis, but you need to call your doctor as soon as you have flu symptoms for these drugs to provide a benefit.

Flu Test: Detecting Flu Viruses

Got flu symptoms? Wondering if you need a flu test? Here's how a flu test might sometimes help you deal with the flu.

In most cases, a doctor can diagnosis the flu is based on flu symptoms, especially when these symptoms occur during the peak flu season. But sometimes your doctor may want to perform an influenza rapid diagnostic test to be sure the influenza virus is responsible for your symptoms and not another health problem.

Why is a flu test helpful?

Seasonal influenza epidemics are responsible for between 3 million and 5 million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. On average, approximately 36,000 deaths due to seasonal influenza occur in the United States annually. Influenza viruses can also cause pandemics, such as the one that occurred in 1918 and killed at least 20 million people.

When your doctor distinguishes the flu virus from other viral infections, the doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs early in the illness when they are most effective. If the flu is diagnosed early (within 48 hours of showing flu symptoms), the antiviral drugs may alleviate the severity of the flu symptoms. After 48 hours, these drugs may not have any benefit in reducing flu symptoms. In addition, a flu test may help reduce the incidence of antibiotics being inappropriately used for the flu virus.

How does a flu test work?

First, your doctor will take a sample from the back of your throat or nose. To collect this sample, the doctor will use a cotton-tipped wooden stick and will simply rub the cotton tip at the back of your throat or inside your nose. The doctor will then seal the sample in a packet and send it to the lab for testing.

How long does it take to get flu test results?

The rapid diagnostic flu tests usually provide results within 30 minutes.

What does the flu test detect?

Some rapid flu tests detect only influenza A virus. Others can detect both influenza A and influenza B viruses. Still, some cases of the flu may be missed by the rapid tests.

Home Remedies for Fast Flu Relief

Need some home remedies for fast flu relief? Most of these home remedies have been used to treat flu symptoms for generations, and may help ease your symptoms as your body fights the flu virus. (You can match your flu symptoms with the specific home remedies that help treat these symptoms.)

Also, keep in mind that if you have flu symptoms, it's a good idea to call your doctor. If taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, flu medications may be able to shorten the duration of flu symptoms. Not sure if you have flu symptoms? Widespread body aches and a fever over 102 degrees are good indicators.

Flu Symptoms: Overall Aches and Congestion

Breathe Aromatic Steam: Fill the bathroom or kitchen sink with steaming water, and add two teaspoons chopped fresh ginger (Zingiber officinalis). Drape a towel over your head and lean over the steam to get maximum benefit. Or add one teaspoon of the over-the-counter ointment Vicks VapoRub® to the steaming water, then breathe in the steam for several minutes until you get relief. Another flu remedy is to add a few drops of oil of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) or menthol to the water. Eucalyptus is known to open up bronchial tubes, ease congestion, and make breathing easier.

Take a Warm Shower: Getting in a warm shower with the bathroom door closed works as your own personal sauna. The steamy bathroom helps to open your airways and moisten and thin the mucus in your sinuses.

Increase Liquids: Stay well-hydrated by drinking at least 8 cups (64 ounces) of water each day. Water keeps your respiratory system hydrated, which helps to liquefy thick mucus that builds up with a respiratory infection. Some findings show that hot liquids may be superior to cold liquids in upper respiratory infections. Other liquids can be added, but don't depend on coffee, tea, or alcoholic beverages as these liquids may cause dehydration.

Use Moist Heat Compresses: If your head is throbbing and it's difficult to breathe through your nose, you may find relief by applying warm moist compresses to the cheeks and sinuses. If you use moist heat, make sure it's not too hot to avoid skin injury.

Flu Symptom: Stuffy Nose

Nasal Saline Irrigation: A host of scientific studies support saline nasal irrigation as an effective flu remedy to thin mucus, decrease postnasal drip, and add moisture to dried mucous membranes. In addition, the saline nasal rinse helps to remove virus particles and bacteria from your nose. Here's a popular recipe that you can try at home:

  1. Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water.
  2. Use a bulb syringe to squirt water into the nose.
  3. Learning over the bathroom sink, hold one nostril closed by applying light finger pressure while squirting the salt mixture into the other nostril. Let it drain and gently blow your nose.
  4. Repeat 2-3 times and then treat the other nostril.

Flu Symptom: Stuffy Nose continued...

You can also use a Neti Pot for nasal saline irrigation. A Neti pot is a ceramic container that looks like a genie's magic lamp and is available at most natural foods stores.

  1. Fill the Neti pot with the saline solution (see recipe above).
  2. Leaning over the bathroom sink, tilt your head to one side and pour the solution directly into one nostril with the Neti pot.
  3. The solution will go into your nasal cavity and run out the other nostril and the back of your throat.
  4. Spit out the drainage, and gently blow your nose to clear your nasal passages.

Saline (Salt Water) Nasal Sprays: Saline nasal sprays can be purchased over the counter at any drug or grocery store and are effective, safe and nonirritating, even for children. Spray the saline solution into one nostril and then gently blow the mucus and saline out of that nostril. Repeat the process in the opposite nostril until both are running clear.

Decongestant Nasal Sprays: If you want immediate relief for a swollen, congested nasal passage, decongestant nasal sprays such as oxymetazoline (Afrin®) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine®) may be helpful. Decongestant nasal sprays are safe to use, but it's important to stop the spray after three days to avoid the development of rebound congestion (congestion that worsens when you stop the spray). This warning is on the bottle of most over-the-counter decongestant sprays.

Flu Symptom: Cough

OTC Cough Syrup: Try an over-the-counter cough syrup to calm a cough with flu. You can select from a cough suppressant, expectorant (guaifenesin), or topical medicine (a menthol rub for the chest). If you have asthma or other lung disease, avoid suppressing your cough. Talk to your doctor to see what might be helpful in your situation. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.

Suck Cough Drops or Hard Candy: Keep sugar-free cough drops or hard candy nearby to calm a tickle in your throat with the flu. In addition, a teaspoon of honey might also help calm an irritated throat.

Flu Symptoms: Scratchy Throat and Congestion

Hot Chicken Soup: If the flu has taken its toll on your throat, and it's hard to swallow without grimacing, sip some hot chicken soup. Hot chicken soup is a potent mucus stimulant, especially when it's loaded with pepper, garlic, hot curry powder, or other pungent spice that helps to thin mucus in the mouth, throat, and lungs.

Studies have shown that hot chicken soup improves the function of cilia, the tiny hair like projections in the nasal passages that protect the body from foreign bacteria and viruses. Steaming chicken soup may also improve the motion of disease-fighting white blood cells.

Spice It Up: Garlic (the stinking rose) appears to have antimicrobial and immune-stimulating properties and may give relief of upper respiratory congestion with cold or flu.

Home Remedies for Fast Flu Relief


Flu Symptoms: Scratchy Throat and Congestion continued...

Ginger also stimulates nerves that lead to mucus production. Ginger appears to have an antioxidant effect, as well as an anti-inflammatory effect, and stimulates the production of interferon that helps fight viral infections.

Chili peppers are a great source of capsaicin, an antioxidant that also acts as a natural decongestant and expectorant. If you have a strong stomach, add a few chili peppers to season your foods or use a few drops of hot sauce in a food or beverage. The added "spice" will help to open your nasal passages and temporarily improve breathing.

Dab some horseradish on your sandwich if you need a decongestant effect. Horseradish -- a root -- contains a chemical similar to one found in decongestants.

Try an Expectorant: With a cold or flu, it's important to keep mucus thin so it doesn't stagnate and allow bacteria to breed, thus, increasing the chances of infection. Try an over-the-counter expectorant such as guaifenesin, which is found in over-the-counter cough products such as Robitussin and Mucinex. Remember that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4. Follow the directions on the label.

Flu Symptoms: Fever and Muscle Aches

Try an OTC Analgesic: A fever is your body's way of fighting the viral infection. There are over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) that can reduce fever and ease aching muscles. Follow the dosage recommendation on the label. Never give aspirin to a child to reduce fever! Call your doctor if you're unsure about what to take to ease fever and body aches.

Pump More Fluids: With a fever, you can easily become dehydrated unless you are increasing fluids. Be sure to increase liquids including water, clear soups or broth, and an electrolyte replacement drink until the fever resolves.

Stay in Bed and Rest: Getting plenty of rest and healing sleep is important to boost immune function and give the body time to heal. It is during the deeper stages of sleep that you experience metabolic and tissue restoration.

Flu Symptoms: Nighttime Congestion and Can't Sleep

Try a Humidifier: If the air in your room is too dry, use a warm mist humidifier or vaporizer to add moisture to the air and help ease nasal and chest congestion. Always clean the humidifier with a bleach solution every few days to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.

Use OTC Nasal Strips: If the flu has caused nasal swelling and congestion, making it difficult to fall asleep, try over-the-counter nasal strips to alleviate this problem. These strips of tape are placed over the bridge of the nose, then a plastic strip springs back, helping to gently open your nasal passages and reduce airflow resistance. Another method of opening the nasal passages is to use surgical tape, one-quarter inch wide. Gently apply one end of the tape to the tip of your nose, lift, and fasten the other end of the tape to the top of your nose.

Natural Flu Cure?

Are you looking for a natural cure for flu? While there are some natural remedies that can help ease flu symptoms, there is no natural cure for flu at this time. In addition, there is no "natural" way to prevent flu other than by avoiding it, so there is no natural substitute for immunization with vaccine or FluMist.

Read on to find out what natural steps you can take to help yourself or someone you are taking care of feel less sick when the flu comes on.

How can I end flu symptoms naturally?

Believe it or not, those flu symptoms you're experiencing are part of a natural healing process -- evidence that your immune system is working to battle the flu. For instance, a fever is your body's way of trying to kill viruses in a hotter-than-normal environment. In addition, a fever's hot environment makes germ-killing proteins in your blood circulate more quickly and effectively. Thus, if you endure a moderate fever for a day or two, you may actually get well faster.

Coughing is another productive flu symptom. When you cough, you're helping to clear your breathing passages of thick mucus that can carry germs to your lungs and the rest of your body.

Can I treat my nasal congestion naturally?

That congested nose is best treated mildly or not at all. A decongestant, such as Sudafed, restricts flow to the blood vessels in your nose and throat. But often you want the increased blood flow because it warms the infected area and helps secretions carry germs out of your body.

A natural remedy for nasal congestion is to drink more water. Hydration is important for anyone with respiratory problems, and water is cost-efficient, easily available, and healthful. As the water content of the mucus is increased, the mucus becomes less viscous and easier to expel. The sinuses drain more effectively when you are well-hydrated, and the mucus membrane is less susceptible to infection.

Will salt water sprays or rinses help decrease nasal congestion?

Rinsing with salt water helps break nasal congestion while also removing virus particles and bacteria from your nose. You can buy an over-the-counter saline spray or use this popular recipe:

Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Lean over the bathroom sink. Gently squirt the saline solution in your nostril using a bulb syringe. It may work best to hold one nostril closed by applying light finger pressure while squirting the salt mixture into the other nostril. Let the saline solution drain. Repeat 2 to 3 times, and then do the same with the other nostril.

Is there a natural remedy to ease my scratchy throat?

Gargling can moisten a sore throat and bring temporary relief. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle with this four times a day.

To reduce the tickle in your throat, try an astringent gargle -- such as tea that contains tannin -- to tighten the membranes. Or use a viscous gargle made with honey, which is popular in folk medicine. Steep one tablespoon of raspberry leaves or lemon juice in two cups of hot water; mix with one teaspoon of honey. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before gargling.

Natural Flu Cure?


What can soothe the uncomfortable, stuffy feeling and dry cough that comes with flu?

Hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, prevent dehydration, and soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat. If you're so congested you can't sleep at night, try a hot toddy, an age-old remedy.

Make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add one teaspoon of honey and 1 small shot (about 1 ounce) of whiskey or bourbon. Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol inflames those membranes and works against what you are trying to do.

Are there natural dietary supplements that help relieve flu symptoms?

There are various dietary supplements that are purported to ease flu symptoms, yet none have scientific substantiation. It's important to talk with your doctor before using any natural dietary supplement with flu.

Some natural herbal products can cause allergic reactions. Other natural products may interfere with prescribed medications you're taking. A few natural products have been found to cause liver damage, so use caution.

If you are uncertain about the claims on a natural dietary supplement product label, call your doctor. A health care professional can assess the product to let you know what it contains.

So what can I do when flu symptoms hit?

Even though there's no natural cure for flu, you can manage flu symptoms by using common sense and pampering yourself a bit during the illness. Here are some tips:

  • Call your doctor within 48 hours of noticing flu symptoms and ask about antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs help decrease flu symptoms and may shorten the duration of the flu if taken early in the illness.
  • Get plenty of rest. Your body needs added rest to fight the viral infection.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated is important when you have fever, and you may need increased liquids to ensure this.
  • Breathe steam. A steamy shower or a bowl of steaming water can help add moisture to dry throats and nasal passages.
  • Seek medical advice. If your flu symptoms worsen or if you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, COPD, asthma, or AIDS/HIV, call your doctor. Your doctor can medically assess your symptoms to see if you might need medication or other treatment.
  • Remember, antibiotics can't help fight the flu virus. In fact, they may lead to antibiotic resistance if taken inappropriately.
  • Eat a nutritious diet to maximize your immune defenses with the flu.
  • Get plenty of restful sleep -- 7 to 9 hours.
  • Keep the flu to yourself. Stay away from family members, colleagues, and friends, because you are contagious for five days after flu symptoms start.

What to Eat When You Have the Flu

If you're suffering with the flu, you may be wondering if there's a flu diet. After all, you've heard the adage "starve a fever, and feed a cold." But what do you eat when you have both fever and cold-like symptoms that come with flu?

Today, more than ever, we're aware of the healing power of food to enhance immunity and aid in recovering from illness. Of course, proper nutrition is necessary for maintaining good health. But when your body battles flu symptoms for days or even weeks, your diet becomes even more essential in helping you achieve a speedy recovery. It's critical that necessary vitamins and minerals be included in your daily diet to help you build your strength.

What are the benefits of nutrients in healing?

Nutrients are special compounds in foods that are essential to the body's repair, growth, and wellness. Nutrients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and water as well as the sources of calories -- carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Some nutrients -- called nonessential nutrients -- are made by your body. Other nutrients -- essential nutrients -- must come from your diet. Any deficiency in nutrients can lead to illness if not corrected.

What foods help to fight infection with flu?

Whether you are sick or not, protein is always necessary to keep your body strong. Proteins are essential to help your body maintain and build strength. Lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dairy, eggs, and nuts and seeds are good sources of protein.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends that adults eat 50 grams of protein per day. Pregnant and nursing women need more. By eating foods high in protein, we also get the benefit of other healing nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12, both of which contribute to a healthy immune system.

Vitamin B6 is widely available in foods, including protein foods such as turkey and beans as well as potatoes, spinach, and enriched cereal grains. Proteins such as meats, milk, and fish also contain vitamin B12, a powerful immune booster.

Minerals such as selenium and zinc work to keep the immune system strong. These minerals are found in protein rich foods such as beans, nuts, meat, and poultry.

Can flavonoids boost immune function?

Flavonoids (or bioflavonoids) include about 4,000 compounds that are responsible for the colors of fruits and flowers. Findings show that flavonoids found in the soft white skin of citrus fruits increase immune system activation.

Flavonoids are found in grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes.

What other nutrients help to fight infections?

One nutrient that's found to strengthen the immune system so it can fight other infections is glutathione. This powerful antioxidant is most plentiful in the red, pulpy area of the watermelon near the rind. Glutathione is also found in cruciferous vegetables like kale, collards, broccoli, and cabbage.

What foods should I avoid and which should I eat if I'm congested with flu?

Actually, any food or beverage is fine to eat if you're hungry or thirsty. In some people, dairy products increase mucus production. If this happens to you, avoid dairy for a few days. Dairy products may also make nausea and vomiting worse.

Orange juice, especially with the pulp, is packed with vitamin C, , and folic acid, which help to boost immunity and speed recovery from illness. Some researchers suggest that vitamin C may even decrease the time you are sick with colds and flu.

What do I eat or drink if I'm nauseated with flu?

It's probably best to refrain from eating if you're nauseated or have diarrhea. Instead, continue to sip clear beverages to keep your system well hydrated. In addition, increase your intake of fluids such as chipped ice, juices, Gatorade, ginger ale, clear broths, gelatin, and ice pops.

Start with small amounts, such as 4 to 8 ounces at a time for adults and 1 ounce or less at a time for children. Only use clear liquids (such as clear soup broth, juice, lemon-lime soda). If you're not sure if it's clear, put the liquid in a clear glass bowl and try to read something through it. If you can't read, it's not clear.

Warm decaffeinated tea with honey may help coat your throat and soothe it. Also, warm drinks work better than cold drinks for opening congested airways.

Once your stomach feels better, try the BRAT diet and slowly reintroduce whole foods back into your system. The BRAT diet, an acronym for bananas, rice, applesauce, and dry toast, is easily digested and unlikely to irritate your gastrointestinal system.

What about Grandma's chicken soup?

Chicken soup is a must with cold-like symptoms. In fact, in a study published in the journal Chest, researchers confirmed that chicken soup had a mild anti-inflammatory effect that reduced symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

A well-nourished immune system is better able to fight off infections. Once you recover from flu, make sure your diet is filled with a variety of food, colorful fruits and vegetables, and legumes that are high in phytochemicals, which are natural food components that have health-boosting properties. In addition, get in bed early and aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep to get your body back on the road to wellness.

Exercise When You Have the Flu

Can exercise keep you from getting the flu this year? What if you're already sick with flu symptoms? Should you push yourself to work-out anyway?

No one can deny the benefit of a regular exercise regimen on overall health and disease prevention. Findings continue to support the benefit of regular exercise in strengthening the immune system, enabling it to fight viral and bacterial infections.

Yet what if you have fever or other flu symptoms? Should you continue to exercise? Would even a light workout worsen flu symptoms? Let's find out.

Can regular exercise help prevent the flu?

Maybe. The most effective way to stay well is to keep your immune system strong. Taking care of yourself by eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, getting ample sleep, and avoiding and reducing stress can go a long way toward helping you prevent chronic illness.

According to recent findings, when moderate exercise is repeated on a near daily basis, there is a cumulative immune-enhancing effect, which leads to a sustained response by the immune system to illness. When you exercise, your white blood cells -- the blood cells that fight infections in the body -- travel through your body more quickly, fighting bacteria and viruses (such as flu) more efficiently. To maintain good health, experts recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity such as walking, swimming, biking, or running each day.

While regular exercise helps keep you trim and fit, there are also two side benefits -- reduced stress and better sleep. Stress can wreak havoc with your mental and physical health. Regular exercise helps reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that can tear down immunity. In addition, getting 7 to 8 hours sleep each night is equally important for staying well and helping your immune system fight viral and bacterial invaders. Exercising daily helps to improve healing sleep.

On the other hand, extremely vigorous forms of exercise, including working out for hours at the gym and running marathons, can have a negative effect on your immune system. Studies show that extreme workouts can decrease the number of white blood cells flowing throughout your body while increasing the level of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, in the bloodstream. These emergency hormones help you cope with the physical stress but can also increase your likelihood of illness.

Can exercise aggravate my flu symptoms?

While mild exercise can help boost your immune system, you may want to be gentle on yourself if you already have the flu. That's when it's time to listen to your body, and give it time to recover.

The bottom line? Rest your body when you have the flu. Allow your body a chance to adjust to the stress of illness. Your immune system functions best when it is not stressed or in overdrive.

Exercise When You Have the Flu


Are there any tips on when to exercise -- and when not to exercise -- with flu?

If you have a fever with the flu, then be wary of exercise. Typically, people with the flu have fevers for two to five days. A fever is a sign that your body is battling a viral or bacterial infection. Exercising may stress your body even more and result in dehydration. It could delay your recovery from the flu. You may want to wait a few days until your fever has broken and your body's feeling more energetic before returning to your regular exercise regimen.

If you don't have a fever yet suffer with other flu symptoms, it's advisable to talk to your doctor before lacing up your sneakers. After all, they'll still be in the closet in a few days when you're fully recovered from the flu.

(For more information, check out WebMD's video Exercise: Boost Your Immune System.)

Coping With Flu: 10 Tips to Ease Symptoms

Coping with flu again this year? While there's no cure for flu, there are some natural and practical flu remedies you can use to ease flu symptoms. Here are some you can try today. (Keep in mind that the FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.)

Tip #1: Stay home and get plenty of rest.

On the first day of flu symptoms, follow the rules of flu etiquette. Call your work or school and tell them you're not coming in for a few days because you're sick -- and very contagious! Then, take advantage of these first days of the flu and let your body have much-needed rest. Pull out your favorite movies, curl up on the couch, and spend the time watching DVDs while your body battles the virus.

Tip #2: Drink plenty of fluids.

Increase fluids such as water, fruit juices, sports drinks, and clear soups (like chicken soup). Fluids help keep your respiratory system hydrated and liquefy thick mucus that can build up to cause infection in your bronchial tubes.

Tip #3: Treat aches and fever so you feel comfortable.

Got fever? Fever is a flu symptom and occurs when your body temperature rises to fight off infection (in this case, the flu virus).

Treat fever and aches with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn).

Aspirin should never be given to children and adults younger than 20 years old with symptoms of flu or cold because it is associated with a condition known as Reye's syndrome, a very serious illness that damages the brain and liver.

Tip #4: Use cough suppressants and expectorants to treat the cough.

Over-the-counter cough remedies are available to suppress cough. There are also over-the-counter expectorants that liquefy thick mucus so it can be coughed up. There is some disagreement among doctors about how well these cough medicines work.

Tip #5: Use steam inhalations.

Fill the bathroom sink with steaming water. Add 1 teaspoon of the over-the-counter ointment Vicks VapoRub to the steaming water, and then breathe in the steam for several minutes until you get relief. Another alternative is to add a few drops of oil of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) or menthol to the water. Eucalyptus opens up bronchial tubes, eases congestion, and makes breathing easier.

Tip #6: Sit in a steamy bathroom.

If you are still congested, sit in a bathroom with the door closed and allow the shower to run hot until the room fills with moist steam. Inhaling the moisture can help to open your airways. Make sure you sit away from the hot shower so you do not get burned by the water.

Tip #7: Eat hot chicken soup ... then spice it up some.

Hot chicken soup is a potent mucus stimulant, especially when it's loaded with pepper, garlic, hot curry powder, or other pungent spice that helps to thin mucus in the mouth, throat, and lungs. Add a few drops of hot sauce to your soup to open your sinuses and improve breathing.

Tip #8: Run the humidifier.

If the air is dry, a warm mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten the air and help ease congestion and coughing. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, however, to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.

Tip #9: Try soothing lozenges.

Sucking on soothing lozenges will help to moisten and coat your scratchy throat and reduce the cough associated with flu.

Tip #10: Try saline (salt water) nasal drops.

Saline nose drops are available over-the-counter at any drug or grocery store and are effective, safe, and nonirritating, even for children. Put several drops into one nostril, and then gently blow the mucus and saline out of that nostril. Repeat the process in the opposite nostril until both are running clear.

When Should I Call The Doctor About an Antiviral Flu Drug?

Flu drugs are taken at the onset of flu. These flu drugs may help decrease the severity and duration of flu symptoms.

The CDC recommends Relenza and Tamiflu. Relenza and Tamiflu are most effective when given within 48 hours of the onset of illness. These flu medications can decrease the duration of the flu by one day if used within this early time period. They are usually given for a period of about five days. They are also sometimes used to help prevent the flu in someone exposed to another person with the flu.

In addition, call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Earache or drainage from your ear
  • Pain in your face or forehead along with thick yellow or green mucus for more than a week
  • Temperature higher than 102 degrees
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness, sore throat, or a cough that will not go away
  • Wheezing

What about taking an antibiotic? Would that relieve my symptoms?

Antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria. The flu is a viral infection, and antibiotics don't treat viruses.

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