Charles A. Bertrand, M.D., FACP, DIM-CD (Ret.)
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College
and at the Medical University of South Carolina


This year about 45,000 Americans will die of flu -related complications, such as pneumonia. Most of these deaths will occur in people above the age of 65 years.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that annual flu vaccination be given at the age 50.

The flu is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. There are two main types --A and B but there are mutations as well. The virus may be picked up in the air by inhalation or by touching a contaminated object like a telephone. The usual symptoms are : cough, fever, headache, sore throat, running nose and fatigue. This syndrome is well described in the Johns Hopkins Medical Letter for October 2000.

The vaccination is about 70 to 90 percent effective. The immunity conferred lasts about 12 months and this is why annual vaccination is recommended. The flu vaccine has been found to reduce the risk of heart attacks and hearth failure by about two-thirds , according to a recent presentation at the American College of Cardiology.Older people with cardiac and respiratory problems do not tolerate this illness very well.

It is usually recommended that the vaccine be given during the month of October, since that is the time of year when the flu is most prevalent in the United States. But, because of manufacturing problems, the vaccine may not be available until later on.this year.

Antibiotics are of no value in treating the flu. There are two newer anti-viral medications that reduce the duration of the illness by about one day -- usually from seven days to six days. They are zanamivir and oseltamivir and work by blocking an enzyme that flu viruses need to reproduce. They may reduce the severity of the symptoms somewhat and slightly reduce the duration of the illness.

The advice provided on this website is intended to be general in nature and should not be relied upon for specific treatment. If you need personal medical attention please contact your physician.

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