The flu, or "influenza virus infection," is a highly contagious airborne disease. It can be lethal, especially in weak individuals. In the U.S. alone, seasonal influenza accounts for approximately 36,000 deaths every year.
Influenza results from infection with one of three types of Orthomyxoviruses. From the most severe to the least, they are influenza A, B and C.
Illness is abrupt. Typical symptoms include headache, feverishness, chills, malaise, dry cough, muscle aches, sore throat, loss of appetite and chest pain.
Upon infection, the virus incubates for one to four days. Symptoms then appear and run their course for 7 to 10 days, but can last longer in young children.
Avoiding close contact with infected people, and coupling bed rest with home remedies and over-the-counter medicines should help get rid of the flu within two weeks.
Recovery should be spontaneous. Call a doctor if flu symptoms don't improve within two weeks, if they get worse or if an underlying condition gets worse.
Antibiotics don't help treat the flu, as commonly believed, but some antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms when administered within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.