Flu Cycle
An estimated 20 million Americans fall ill with the flu every year. Your chance of coming down with the flu increases significantly if you do not get a shot, or if you encounter someone infected with a flu virus.

What does the future hold if you come in contact with a dreaded flu virus? And once flu symptoms appear, what can you do to fight the illness?


Day 1
The virus enters your body through the mouth or nose membrane. You probably have no idea that you have just contracted an influenza strain.

Day 2-4
The virus settles in your lungs and begins to grow. Except for the occasional sniffle, no flu symptoms appear. But looks are deceiving. A person infected with a flu virus is contagious during this incubation stage.

Day 5
As the incubation period ends, flu symptoms strike with sudden force. Your body temperature rises. Shivers make your skin tingle. A headache sets in. Muscles start to ache. Your nose becomes stuffy and runs. A heavy cough and sore throat cause discomfort. You experience general malaise.

Your only chance to short-circuit the flu cycle comes in the first 48 hours after symptoms hit you. Some prescription drugs can provide a measure of relief, lessening the symptoms and shortening the length of your illness. You must consult your doctor to get a prescription.

Zanamivir (Relenza) prevents a flu virus from replicating. It is inhaled through a hand-held breathing device called a Diskhaler. Zanamivir has proved effective against both A and B virus strains of the flu. It can help reduce the flu's duration by one or two days.

Antiviral medications amantadine (Symmetrel and Symadine) and rimantadine (Flumadine) can reduce the flu period by half, but they only work against the Type A virus. They come in syrup, tablet or capsule form.

Over-the-counter flu remedies may help you feel a bit better, but they won't do anything to fight the virus.

Day 6-9
The flu hits its stride during this time span. Your body's immune system is under full siege from the virus.

Once you're really sick, what can you do to feel better?

• Get plenty of bed rest.
• Drink lots of fluids, preferably water or juices, to flush virus organisms from the body and prevent dehydration.
• Eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A, E and carotene. Although loss of appetite usually accompanies the flu, food can give the body strength to fight the virus.
• Use a decongestant to help allay sneezing and a runny nose.
• Take acetaminophen, a non-aspirin pain reliever, to ease headache and aching muscles. A warm shower or bath can also help soothe muscle soreness.
• Consider using an expectorant to loosen bronchial congestion.
• Drink warm water with lemon and honey to relieve a scratchy throat.

• Don't get a flu shot after infection. This aggravates a flu situation.
• Don't work out. Exercise further increases body temperature and that rundown feeling.
• Don't drink alcohol or coffee. They work as diuretics that drain moisture from the body.
• Don't mingle with other people. A person remains contagious as long as he or she runs a fever.

Day 10-14
By the last days of the flu period, your body has started to produce the antibodies needed to destroy the virus.

You slowly regain strength and recover. You may resume normal activities once the fever disappears and coughing diminishes. Although you're well enough to go to work, fatigue can linger for weeks afterward.

After symptoms disappear, you are usually immune to the strain of the flu virus you just overcame. But this does not guarantee protection from other flu strains.


Related Links
Editor's note: These links will take you to Web sites with content we do not control or endorse.

Known Strains
Flu virus profiles, from International Influenza Education Panel

Flu Features
Virus types and influenza history, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Promoting Awareness
Influenza awareness information and tips, from American Lung Association

Influenza history, strains, symptoms and treatment, from The Daily Apple

Influenza Forecast
What to expect in the coming flu season and how to prepare, from onhealth


American Lung Association; The Orange County Register/KRT; Chicago Tribune/KRT; The Orlando Sentinel/KRT; New York Daily News/KRT; The Cincinnati Enquirer; Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Ma.); The Times-Picayune (New Orleans); Richmond Times-Dispatch

Producer: Chuck Myers/KRT
Designer: Adam Mark/KRT and Ron Coddington/KRT
Research: Howard McComas/KRT; Melissa Green/KRT
Animation: Peter Kohama/KRT

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