Influenza- Everything You Need To Know About Flu

Influenza is a viral respiratory infection that attacks your nose, throat, and lungs. Influenza is also known as the flu. According to the statistical estimation of the Infectious Disease Society of America, almost 8.3% of the United States population gets sick because of the flu every season. 

Do not get confused between Influenza and the stomach “flu” viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting as they both are different.

In most cases, the flu resolves on its own. But sometimes, it can be deadly. Here is a list of people that might be at a higher risk of developing flu complications, such as:-

  • Children under age 5, especially those who are under 6 months
  • Adults older than 65 years
  • People working in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Women expecting a baby and those who are under two weeks after giving birth
  • People with weak immunity
  • Native Americans are at a higher risk
  • People with some chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes
  • People obsessed with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

Even though the annual influenza vaccine is not 100% effective, it is the best defence against the flu.

What Are The Common Symptoms Of Flu?

Initially, the flu may appear as a common cold with a runny, sneezing nose with a sore throat. Some common symptoms of the flu are mentioned below:-

  • Fever
  • Muscles aching
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Headache
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Difficulty while breathing; shortness of breath
  • A feeling of tiredness and weakness
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea (most common in children than adults)

In the case of adults, there are some emergency signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Shortness of breath causing difficulty while breathing
  • Seizures
  • Pain in the chest
  • Ongoing dizziness
  • If you have any other medical conditions, it might get worse due to the flu
  • Severe weakness or pain in the muscles

Especially in children:

  • Difficulty while breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Chest pain
  • Dehydration
  • Severe pain in the muscle
  • Seizures

What Causes Flu(Influenza)?

Flu is caused by the virus named Influenza viruses. This virus gets transmitted through the air droplets present in the air. The sneezes, coughs, or talks of an infected person help the infected air droplets to enter the atmosphere. 

If you inhale those infected droplets directly, you will get infected with the virus. The chance of getting infected also increases through objects, such as a telephone or computer keyboard, which further enter through the eyes, nose, or mouth.

After the virus gets transmitted to you, it will take almost five days to show its symptoms. The time of existence of the virus in the body may be longer if the person has a weak immune system. 

The Influenza viruses are constantly changing as per the new strains appearing regularly. In case you had influenza in the past, your body has already made antibodies to fight the specific virus.  

Therefore, people prefer getting vaccinated as those antibodies help prevent infection or lessen its severity from various flu viruses. In fact, these antibody levels may decline with the growing time.

Therefore, the antibodies you encountered in the past may get resolved, but the vaccine can lower the severity of the flu but cannot protect you from it the new influenza viruses.

Period of Contagiousness: Such infection can be transmitted and infected unknowingly and may take 3-4 days to appear. But even though it might not appear to you, it can be transmitted easily. 

After getting the symptoms of flu 5-7 days after getting the infection, the transmission gets severe. Young children, aged adults, and people with weak immune systems might be able to infect others for a longer period of time.

What Complications A Flu Patient May Face?

In young and healthy people, the flu may get resolved very easily without any severe complications. Even though you may feel miserable while suffering from flu but children and adults that are at high risk of flu may develop the following symptoms, such as:-

  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma flare-ups
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Infections in ears
  • ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)
  • Pneumonia is one of the most common severe complications. 

In older adults and people with a chronic illness, pneumonia can be deadly. A list of risk factors for Flu(Influenza) are:-

Age: It is observed in children between the ages of 6 and 5 years old and adults older than 64 years. People working in nursing homes or military barracks are more prone to flu. Younger people under the age of 19 years consuming Aspirin are also at risk of getting the flu and may develop Reye’s syndrome.

Weak immune system: People having a weak immune system are also at a higher risk of developing flu, such as people with cancer treatment, long-term use of steroids, anti-rejection drugs, blood cancer, or HIV/AIDS. These conditions weaken the immune system of a person making it more prone to flu.

Race: A race of Americans; Native American people are at a high risk of developing flu.

Pregnancy: Women expecting a baby are more sensitive and prone to flu-like infections, especially in the second and third trimesters. Women need to take special care up to two weeks after delivering their babies.

Obesity: People with a 40 body mass index (BMI) or more have an increased risk of flu complications

Chronic illnesses: Some chronic conditions also increase the risk of flu, such as respiratory diseases; asthma, diabetes, heart disease, nervous system diseases, metabolic disorders, airway abnormality, and kidney, liver, or blood disease.

Also Read: Hypertension: A Chronic Illness That Can Be Prevented

How Is Flu Treated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the annual flu vaccination for everyone age 6 months or older in order to treat the flu. The vaccine can lower the risk of the flu and the need to stay in the hospital.

Depending on the overall prevailing condition, the doctor may prescribe you medication. Such as antiviral: oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab) or baloxavir (Xofluza). Antibiotic medications: Azithromycin (Azax), Minocycline (Minoz), or Cefalexin (Cephadex).

Keeping the current scenario in mind(COVID-19), it is essential to get the flu vaccine as both have similar symptoms and might confuse people. Before you get to know about it, the infection would have entered deep into you.

Flu vaccination is vital this season because the flu and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cause similar symptoms. The Influenza infection can also put the risk of coronavirus, which can be deadly. However, avoid getting affected by the flu virus.

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Julain Carter is mental health expert for Goodrxmedicine.com. He is an experienced clinical mental health counsellor with recognition in cognitive behavioural therapy. Julian’s sharp behavioural observations reflect in both his personal and professional life.