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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

The flu, more properly called influenza, is an acute viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Many people have difficulty distinguishing between the flu and the common cold, and, indeed, many of the symptoms are the same. Colds, however, tend to come on slowly and produce symptoms restricted to the chest, the neck, and the head; in contrast, the flu attacks swiftly and is accompanied by body-wide symptoms, including fever, aches, and general fatigue. While most people recover from colds within a few days, it may take weeks before the lingering fatigue and the cough of a flu completely disappear.

The three classifications of the influenza virus are A, B, and C. The most common virus is influenza A. It often occurs in epidemics during the late fall or the early winter. The highest incidence of the flu is in schoolchildren. It generally takes forty-eight hours after initial exposure for symptoms to begin occurring. Chills, a fever, a headache, and muscular aches and pains are the most common initial symptoms followed by a severe cough. Acute symptoms usually subside in two to three days. People who are most at risk for serious complications include those with chronic pulmonary or heart disease.

The influenza viruses mutate constantly, changing their structure just enough so that it is more difficult to build up immunity to them. These viruses are also highly contagious. They are communicated via coughs and sneezes, which propel infected droplets into the air and onto surfaces. Most communities see an outbreak of at least one flu virus every winter; every two to three years, the flu reaches epidemic proportions.

As with the common cold, there is no conventional cure for the flu. However, specific natural therapies described in this section have the potential to abort a flu in its early stages. The wisest course of action is to keep your immune system strong and healthy during the winter months, thereby reducing the virus's ability to take hold in your body. Eat well, exercise, and rest.

A note of caution: For most of us, a bout with the flu is highly unpleasant but temporary. However, it can sometimes develop into pneumonia, a serious disease that may be fatal: In people over sixty-five, this flu-related pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death. If you are in this age group, or if you have a compromised immune system or a chronic chest condition (such as asthma, emphysema, or cardiovascular disease), see a doctor immediately if you catch the flu. Very young children should also receive medical care right away. No matter what your age or physical ­ condition, if a case of the flu leads to difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest, call your doctor.

Next: What are the Symptoms of the Flu

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