Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system, nose, throat and lungs.
Most people who get flu treat themselves at home and do not need to see a doctor. If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see a doctor right away. Sometimes, influenza and its complications can be deadly.
People at higher risk of developing flu complications include:
- Children under five years old
- Adults older than 65
- Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- Pregnant women and women up to two weeks after giving birth
- People with weakened immune systems, such as HIV-positive patients and diabetics
- People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease
It usually presents as a cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. Other common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 38°C and chills with sweating
- Sore throat
- Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
When someone with flu coughs, sneezes, laughs or talks the flu viruses travel through the air in droplets. Then you inhale the droplets or you can pick up the germs from an object you touch and transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth.
People with the virus are likely contagious from the day or so before symptoms appear until about five days afterwards, though sometimes people are contagious for 10 days after symptoms appear.
Influenza viruses are constantly changing, with new strains appearing regularly. If you have had influenza in the past, your body has made antibodies to fight that strain of the virus. Therefore, if you are exposed to similar influenza viruses, either by having the disease or by vaccination, then you are protected.
If you are young and healthy, seasonal influenza usually is not serious. It usually goes away in a week or two with no lasting effects. But high-risk children and adults may develop complications such as:
- Asthma flare-ups
- Heart problems
- Ear infections
Pneumonia is the most serious complication. For older adults and people with a chronic illness, pneumonia can be deadly.
Usually, you’ll only need bed rest and fluids to treat the flu. But your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, anaelgesics for headache and myalgia and vitamins. If taken soon after you notice symptoms, these drugs may shorten your illness by a day or so and help prevent complications.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you do come down with the flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:
• Drink lots of liquids, especially water.
• Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection.
• Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to combat the aches associated with influenza. Do not take aspirin as there are potentially fatal complications.
Annual flu vaccination for everyone over the age of six months is highly recommended. Each year’s seasonal flu vaccine contains protection from the three or four influenza viruses that are expected to be the most common during that flu season.
• Wash your hands. Thorough and frequent hand-washing is an effective way to prevent many common infections.
• Contain your coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue.
• Avoid crowds. Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate. By avoiding crowds during peak flu season, you reduce your chances of infection.
Flu shots are the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications. The recommendation is that everyone six months of age or older be vaccinated annually against influenza during the winter months, so the vaccine is best used during the months of March and April.
It takes about 10 to 14 days to build immunity after a flu shot. You need to be vaccinated every year because new flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting viruses. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of complications, including:
• Pregnant women
• Older adults
• Young children
• Children between six months and eight years old may need two doses of the flu vaccine given at least four weeks apart to be fully protected.
• Chronic medical conditions can also increase your risk of influenza complications. Examples include: asthma, cancer or cancer treatment, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, diabetes, HIV/Aids, kidney or liver disease, obesity.
Who shouldn’t get a flu shot?
• Most types of flu vaccines contain egg protein so if you have a severe egg allergy, you should be supervised by a doctor
• If you had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine.