We’ve all caught the flu at some point in our lives. That’s what influenza is: a viral infection that affects your respiratory system–nose, lungs, and throat. Usually, most people suffering from influenza get well with time without the need for significant medical intervention. Sometimes though, it can lead to complications in young children (those between 2-5 years of age), older adults (above 65), those who live in nursing homes, pregnant women and those who are in the postpartum phase. Besides, it can also affect people with low immunity and who suffer from kidney and liver issues and conditions like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Several people prefer and are recommended to get an annual influenza vaccine, though it is still not as effective at keeping it at bay.
Symptoms of Influenza
While the symptoms of influenza resemble a common cold–runny nose, sneezing, and sore throat–it can develop into something more serious. Flu tends to attack the respiratory system suddenly, in comparison to a cold, that develops slowly. The most common symptoms of influenza are fever over 100.4°F, sore muscles, chills and sweats, severe headache, dry cough, fatigue, nasal congestion, and a sore throat.
Generally, most people begin to feel better with time and don’t need to consult a doctor. However, if you belong to any high-risk segment of the population, please consult a medical practitioner, as soon as possible. If you take the antiviral medication within 48 hours after you notice the symptoms, your condition can be controlled.
Causes of influenza
There could be several causes. Firstly, flu viruses travel through the air in droplets. For instance, if an influenza patient coughs or sneezes, and you inhale those droplets, then you are at risk of catching the flu. Besides, even if you use an object, say a telephone or a laptop, that has droplets, you can still contract influenza.
It is said that people with this virus are contagious from the day the symptoms begin to show, until the fifth day.
There are a few factors that increase the risk of influenza:
- Age: This plays a significant role when it comes to influenza. A young child and an old person are more prone to this virus.
- Poor immune system: Those who are undergoing cancer treatment or are on anti-rejection drugs can have a weak immune system. This makes you prone to contracting influenza.
- Living and working conditions: This condition is common among those who live or work with large communities, either in nursing homes or military barracks.
- Chronic illnesses: If you are suffering from a respiratory condition like asthma, or even diabetes and heart disease, then the risk of catching the flu is high.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at increased risk of catching the flu, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Women who are up to two weeks postpartum can also be at risk.
- Obesity: Those with a high Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or above are again more susceptible to developing influenza.
Generally, seasonal influenza is not a cause of concern and goes away within a week or so with just supportive treatment. Those who are at a high-risk may suffer from complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, heart issues and ear infections.
It is recommended to get an annual flu vaccination for everyone aged six months or older. Every year, the seasonal flu vaccine includes protection from three or four influenza viruses that are assumed to be common that year. As the strains of the influenza virus are constantly mutating, vaccination is recommended yearly. These vaccines are either available in the form of an injection or a nasal spray.
While influenza can generally be cured, it is best to keep some tips in mind to reduce the spread of infection. Remember to wash your hands frequently, either with a medicated soap or alcohol-based sanitizers. Next, make sure you cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough. Lastly, it’s best to avoid areas that are crowded, since such places are breeding grounds for viruses.
After all, as they say, ‘Prevention is better than cure’.