What Makes the Flu so Dangerous?

According to the CDC, all regions of the country are experiencing elevated levels of flu-like illness, and the flu has caused more than 2,000 deaths this season. A doctor explains why the flu is a severe illness and needs to be taken seriously.

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CLEVELAND – During the winter months, we hear a lot about the flu.

And if you’ve never experienced influenza first-hand, it can be easy to shrug off the warning signs.

But, according to Alan Taege, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic, the flu is a severe illness that needs to be taken seriously.

“For those who have never had influenza, it’s difficult to understand how much worse it is than a typical cold,” he said. “Influenza makes one much more ill – higher fevers, profound body aches, much, much, more fatigue, and consequently, is a much more severe disease.” 

Dr. Taege said most people will get through a cold in a week’s time, with minor discomfort.

The flu, however, can take you out of commission for much longer.

Key signs of the flu include fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset.

Dr. Taege said one of the most dangerous complications that can result from the flu is bacterial pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a lung infection in which the airways become inflamed and the air sacs of the lungs become filled with fluids – and it can be deadly.

Those who are most at risk of developing pneumonia include children under age two, people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and adults over the age of 65.

If you become ill with the flu, Dr. Taege said you need to watch out for a ‘two-cycle’ illness – where you initially start to feel better, but then become worse days later.

“The typical time course, from contracting true influenza, to where people will get a secondary pneumonia is often a several day span, where, you think, ‘I’m starting to get over this; I don’t ache so much, my temperature’s coming down, I’m starting to feel better,’ – and then suddenly you start coughing more and the fever goes back up,” he said. 

If you get the flu, Dr. Taege said the best thing to do is stay home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and take over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve symptoms.

If you recognize symptoms early-on, you may be able to receive prescription anti-viral medications from your doctor, which can lessen the duration of the flu.

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