Though flu viruses can be detected year-round, they are most common during the fall and winter. We have reached the point in the season where flu is now circulating. Unlike the common cold, serious outcomes of flu can result in hospitalization or death. So everyone needs to know about flu in order to stay protected from it.
What is flu?
Flu is the common name of influenza, which is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It appears most frequently in winter and rainy season. The flu virus spreads through either the upper or lower respiratory tract or both and attacks the body.
What is the difference between cold and flu?
Colds and flu have so much in common that most of the times people may mistake flu as the common cold. So it is important to know how flu is different from the common cold. The common cold is a milder respiratory illness and its symptoms can make people feel bad for few days. But the symptoms of flu can make people feel ill for few days to weeks and can also lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia and may need hospitalization.
What are the symptoms of flu?
One with flu often feel some or all of the symptoms mentioned below:
- Feeling feverish
- Sore throat
- Body or muscle aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Vomiting and diarrhea (common in children than adults)
What are the flu complications?
In some cases, people with flu may develop complications which can be life-threatening and leads to death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and sinus are some of the examples of flu complications.
Flu can worsen the existing chronic health problems. For instance, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu. Similarly, people with congestive heart failure may experience worsening of the condition which is triggered by the flu.
How is flu diagnosed?
It is difficult to diagnose flu through clinical symptoms as they are similar to other infectious respiratory illnesses. So, flu is diagnosed by examining the nasal or throat culture and it takes around 15 minutes to get the test results. If the flu is complicated by other bacterial infections such as pneumonia, sinusitis or ear infection; more tests may be necessary which include chest X-ray, blood picture etc.
How can be flu treated?
In general, flu can be treated with antiviral medications. Symptomatic care with increased fluid intake and rest are recommended. Antiviral medicines differ from antibiotics which treat bacterial infections. People with flu should take antiviral drugs only on doctor’s advice as self-medication can worsen the condition and may result in complications.
Treatment for flu varies if it is accompanied by secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia, ear infections or sinusitis. When people with pre-existing health conditions are infected with flu, they need special care and hospitalization may require.
Who is at risk of getting flu?
Everyone is at risk of getting flu. But certain groups have much risk of the flu. They include:
- Children younger than five years and teens younger than 19 years.
- People who are 65 years or older.
- Pregnant women
- Obese people with a BMI of 40 and higher
- People who receive aspirin therapy
People with pre-existing health conditions are at higher risk of flu complications, such as:
- Metabolic disorders
- Blood disorders
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders
- Conditions affecting kidneys and liver
- Endocrine disorders such as diabetes
- Heart and lung diseases.
How can flu be prevented?
Some of the preventive measures to stay protected from flu include:
- Make a habit of using sanitizer or wash the hands regularly with soap and water.
- Stay away from people who are infected with flu.
- Get the flu vaccine every year prescribed by the doctor.
What should one do if infected with flu?
When infected with flu, one should:
- Stay at home
- Take enough rest
- Increase fluid intake
- Avoid medicines that contain aspirin
Flu infected people should call their doctor immediately, if:
- There is a trouble while breathing or are short of breath
- Feel pain in the chest or stomach
- Get suddenly dizzy
- Have severe vomiting
What if pregnant women get flu?
Flu can be dangerous for pregnant women. So, it is important them to get vaccinated. They should even avoid taking care of anyone who is infected with flu. The symptoms of flu can get worse very quickly in pregnant women which can even cause trouble breathing and may lead to the death of the woman or her baby. So pregnant women who find any of the flu symptoms should consult a doctor and take antiviral medicines to prevent the flu.