Everything you need to know about Flu
Flu, or influenza, can be defined as a respiratory illness due to a virus. It is highly contagious in nature and it spreads to other people by the sneezes and coughs from the infected individual. Other ways we could get infected is by touching or shaking hands with a person who has flu.
A person can be said to be contagious 1-2 days even before the symptoms show up and after 7 days of becoming ill. From this, we can understand that a person has the potential to infect other people with influenza virus even before the symptoms are noticed.
In this article, let us see the types of flu, symptoms of flu, treatment involved, risks, and preventive measures to keep one safe.
Quick facts about flu
- With the general misconceptions in mind, antibiotics cannot help in treating flu but some antivirals can treat it.
- The best way to prevent flu is to get regular vaccination.
- Flu vaccination might not be suitable to certain groups of people, like those who have an allergy towards chicken eggs.
Flu viruses can be classified into 3 types:
- Influenza A
- Influenza B
- Influenza C
Every winter the types A and B viruses are expected to cause seasonal epidemics in Europe and the United States. Type C influenza virus mainly causes mild respiratory illness and it is never responsible for the outbreaks that occur.
In most cases flu gives discomfort but rarely it is life-threatening. The confusion of flu with a severe cold is common because both have more or less the same symptoms. The common symptoms for both includes:
- Blocked or runny nose
- Sore throat
There are exclusive symptoms which can help us determine the flu from the cold that is discussed below.
- High temperature
- Shivers and cold sweats
- Joints and limbs start aching
- Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Generally, they are common in children than in adults.
These symptoms can linger around for 1 week, but the tiredness the individual feels can last for several weeks.
One should remember that not every symptom enlisted here will appear for an individual with flu. After all, it is possible to have flu with no signs of fever.
Since flu is caused by a virus, medications like antibiotics cannot help. But antibiotics can help if the flu led to an illness which is caused by bacteria.
Under some circumstances, a doctor might prescribe antivirals like zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu).
Other than these drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug in 2018, called baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza) for the acute uncomplicated condition of influenza. People can administer this drug in a single dosage by mouth.
This treatment is possible if they:
- Are in the age of 12 or older
- The symptoms of flu show up in less than 48 hours
The side effects of this medication include bronchitis and diarrhea.
Medications for pain relief
Pain relief medication can help to alleviate a few symptoms like body pain and headache caused by the flu. Different types of pain killers are available online. But such medications should be taken only under the prescription of a medical professional. Certain painkillers like aspirin are unsuitable under the age of 12-year children.
The below-mentioned steps can help with the flu to some extent. Individuals who are infected with flu should:
- Not go outside
- If possible, avoid contact with people
- Keep yourself warm and rest a lot
- Increase liquid consumption
- Alcohol and smoking should be avoided
- If possible try eating in small proportions
Flu is generally not serious but it can become unpleasant. There is a chance of severe complications in certain people. Risks can be expected in
- Elderly people
- Individuals with illness for a long time which can undermine the body’s immune system
- Pregnant women
- People administering steroids
- Individuals under cancer treatment
The complications that can arise might include:
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Existing chronic medical conditions worsen like congestive heart failure, diabetes, or asthma
- Sinus problems and ear infections might develop in children
Vaccination against flu gives good protection, considering the statistics that in the United States, over 200,000 people get admitted into the hospital for severe complications and about 36,000 people are expected to die because of flu. On a global scale, each year approximately 250,000-500,000 people die of such a disease.
The flu epidemic is where a large number of people of one country are infected with flu that lasts for several weeks which can be prevented with a simple vaccination.
That is why government agencies and healthcare professionals throughout the world agree on the point that flu vaccination each year is the best way to protect oneself from infection.
Types of vaccination
Generally, there are two types of vaccinations available for usage.
- The flu shot
- The nasal spray flu vaccine
The flu shot will be administered with a needle by a healthcare professional, which can be given to anyone above 6 months, both healthy and people with chronic medical conditions. The other type, nasal spray flu vaccine is composed of live, weakened flu viruses that cannot cause illness.
Seasonal flu shot
A normal flu vaccine will contain the following three influenza viruses:
- Influenza (H3N2) virus
- Influenza (H1N2) virus
- One B virus
Viruses have the tendency to adapt and change and such changes occur with these vaccines. The material inside will be based on scientists’ calculations by international surveillance to predict in the given year, the type of virus and strains that will circulate.
Vaccination gives protection to the individual after 2 weeks from receiving it.
The administration of seasonal flu vaccination should be started in September or when the vaccine is available, and continue it through the flu season, January, and even after. This is due to the fact that the duration and timing of flu seasons are never the same.
In general, flu outbreaks can be commonly seen in January, but it can occur early as in October. One must remember that not everyone is suitable for seasonal flu shots. Hence before administration, each individual should consult their healthcare provider about their decision.