Influenza, or “Flu” as it’s referred to, is a contagious respiratory illness affecting your respiratory system that is caused by Influenza viruses. It is typically spread through interactions with others who are infected. This includes coughing, sneezing, or even talking. You can pick up the virus by simply touching an object that an infected person has previously touched, or by inhaling the flu virus directly.
What are the symptoms of Influenza?
Influenza can commonly be mistaken at first for the common cold. Both include coughing, a sore throat, and a runny or blocked nose.
Often, the symptoms of the flu will be:
- Cold sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- High temperature usually over 100.4 F (38 C)
- A headache
- Aching joints and limbs
- A sore throat
Early symptoms of Influenza can be detected by extreme fatigue, as well as most of the symptoms listed above.
Although there are symptoms such as these, an estimated 20% to 30% of people carrying the flu virus actually have no symptoms at all. Just because you are not experiencing any flu symptoms does NOT mean that you cannot spread the virus.
What are the risk factors for Influenza?
Developing Influenza and complications due to the virus have factors involved that may increase your risk.
- Chronic illnesses. Chronic conditions like diabetes, heart issues, or asthma can increase the risk of complications due to the flu.
- Obesity. Obesity is very prevalent in the U.S. and people with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 40 or more have an increased risk of flu complications.
- Age. Young children and older adults are the most susceptible to Seasonal Influenza.
- Living and working conditions. Living or working with multiple people at one time increases your risk of complications due to Influenza.
- Pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you are more likely to develop complications from flu viruses. These complications typically come in the second and third trimesters.
Complications from Influenza can include:
- Heart problems
- Infections of the ear
- Asthma “flare-ups”
During the 2017-2018 flu season, Influenza significantly increased as the A(H3N2) virus predominantly caused more hospitalizations and deaths in people 65 years of age and older, as well as younger children.
What medicine should I take for the flu?
Since Influenza is caused by a virus, typically an antibiotic will not help you, unless the virus has caused another illness due to bacteria. In some cases, Tamiflu and Relenza (zanamivir) may be prescribed, but they are most effective within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. These antivirus medications may still help prevent severe Influenza complications after the 48 hour period.
Prevention of Influenza
It is estimated that each year in the U.S., 200,000 people suffer from complications due to Influenza and are hospitalized because of it. Out of those 200,000 infected, it is estimated that 36,000 will die. Globally, there are an estimated 250,000 – 500,000 people that die as a result of the flu each year.
So, what’s the best way to prevent the flu? Health experts and government agencies across the globe agree that the best way to protect yourself against the flu virus is to see a medical professional to get a vaccine each year. The flu virus mutates, so a yearly vaccine is crucial for fighting against the ever-evolving Influenza.
Even if a vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting Influenza, it can greatly reduce your chances of severe symptoms related to the viruses.
What types of vaccinations are there for the flu?
There are two types of vaccinations to help fight Influenza:
- Flu shot. The flu shot is administered to the patient via needle, usually in the arm and is approved for anyone older than 6 months.
- Nasal spray flu vaccine. The nasal spray version of the flu vaccine is created with live, but weakened flu viruses. This vaccine is no longer recommended by the CDC because it has been relatively ineffective during recent flu seasons.
There are three different types of Influenza vaccines that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Egg-based flu vaccine
- Cell-based flu vaccine
- Recombinant flu vaccine
More information on how the flu vaccines are produced can be found on the CDC’s website here.
How can I avoid the flu?
There are many ways you can help yourself avoid the flu.
- GET VACCINATED!
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid contact with other people who have the flu
- Avoid objects others have handled
- Take antiviral medication within 48 hours of being exposed to the flu