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Flu Season Can Be Deadly

Influenza can be debilitating even in a good year

SATURDAY, Nov. 1, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- We use the word "flu" so frequently that it's easy to forget how serious this disease can be. The 1918 influenza pandemic, for instance, killed more than 20 million people worldwide.

That type of sweep around the globe only happens once in a while, but even in a "good" year, influenza can be debilitating.

The disease is caused by a virus and is transmitted when someone who is ill coughs, sneezes or even talks and sends the virus into the air. The infected person usually experiences fever (up to 104 degrees), chills, weakness, loss of appetite and aching, according to the American Lung Association. A sore throat, dry cough, nausea and burning eyes may also be part of the package.

If you're healthy to begin with, influenza is pretty nasty. If you're very young, very old or already sick with a chronic disease or some kind of immune system suppression, it can be worse than nasty. Not only is the virus debilitating, but it can lead to secondary bacterial complications and even death.

The lung association suggests that high-risk individuals get vaccinated every year. This high-risk category includes people with chronic lung disease (including asthma, emphysema, tuberculosis and cystic fibrosis), heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, severe anemia or any diseases that depress immunity. People who are undergoing treatments (such as chemotherapy) that suppress immunity, those living in a nursing home or other chronic care facility and those over 50 years old should also consider getting vaccinated.

Individuals should aim to get their shot between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15, the lung association says. An annual vaccination is about 75 percent effective in preventing the disease and may ensure you get a milder case if you do get sick.

If you think you have the flu, be sure to see your doctor.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more insight.

SOURCE: American Lung Association
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