Flu, or influenza, is a common respiratory viral infection. In this reading, you will learn everything about it.
Influenza infection occurs throughout the year in tropical countries. In template climate countries, the flu season begins in the fall and lasts until spring. This means that chance of influenza infection increases during the colder months. Annually, there are uncountable cases of influenza. According to the WHO, each year, around 3 to 5 million patients develop severe influenza. Between 250,000 and 500,000 of these cases result in death.
This article will find the answers to the most commonly asked flu questions directly from a doctor. Don’t worry; everything is simply put, so you get the most out of this reading. So, keep going, and you’ll find everything you need to know about the flu.
What is the flu?
Influenza, commonly called “flu,” is a common respiratory infection. It is caused by the Influenza viruses A and B. It is also highly contagious and is considered an airborne disease.
The latter means that it spreads by tiny droplets made during talking, sneezing, and coughing. These droplets land in other people’s noses and mouths, making them sick with flu.
Furthermore, a person can get the flu by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus, although this way of transmission is less common.
Influenza usually appears in seasonal epidemics and shows a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can go from mild (most cases) to severe that can even cause death. The flu virus can infect your nose, your throat, and sometimes your lungs too. Typically, flu symptoms will resolve on their own. However, a percentage of flu patients can develop further complications.
What are the stages of the flu?
Like any other infectious disease, we can divide the progression of flu activity into different stages. This helps you know when you are contagious to other people. Also, you can understand how many days of feeling sick you can expect and look for help if you exceed them. Still, keep in mind that every person can experience different symptoms, and the duration of these stages can be different.
First, we need to tell you that you are contagious even a day before showing symptoms. Doctors call this day 0. In this stage, you probably perform your normal daily activities but spreading the virus to other people.
In flu illness, the symptom onset is usually very sudden. On day 1, you wake up feeling fine but will feel worse during the day. Then, during days 2 and 3, your symptoms will reach their peak intensity, and you can feel really bad. From day 1 to day 3, is when you will show most of your symptoms. Doctors suggest you get a lot of rest during this stage.
From day 4 to day 6, your symptoms will start to get better. However, some symptoms can still persist, especially tiredness and cough.
From day 7, you are not contagious anymore. If you don’t have any more symptoms, you can return to your normal life. However, if by day 7 you are not getting any better or are getting worse, you should see a doctor.
What is the incubation period of the flu?
The incubation period is the amount of time that passes since you get infected until you experience your first symptoms. In the case of the flu, the incubation period goes from 1 to 4 days. However, most patients will show symptoms 48 hours after they got infected. This is due to the time it takes the virus to reproduce within your body. Keep in mind that not every patient is the same, so the incubation period may vary from patient to patient.
How long is it contagious?
This is a fundamental question. Since the flu is a contagious respiratory illness, it’s essential to know when to threaten other people.
As we mentioned before, you can spread the flu even before you show any symptoms. As soon as 24 hours before your first symptom, you become contagious. Of course, by the time you show symptoms, you become even more infectious or contagious. This is because the virus has reproduced in your body. So, you have more viruses within you to spread.
Moreover, flu symptoms like coughing and sneezing release many infected droplets. Remember that these droplets are the way the virus spreads to other people. You will stop being contagious around day 7 when most of your symptoms probably disappeared.
How long does the flu last?
For most healthy people, the flu is a short illness that resolves itself. This means that there is no need for medications to stop the progression of the disease. It will go away or get better on its own. The typical duration of the flu is from 5 to 7 days. If the symptoms last more than this or worsen after this time, it can be a bad sign.
How many people can affect?
The estimation of how much this disease can affect the population is overwhelming. According to the World Health Organization, Seasonal influenza viruses infect 5 to 15% of the human population each year, resulting in approximately 500,000 deaths worldwide.
Why can this infection repeat several times?
Naturally, the immune system of healthy people needs to learn how to defend themselves from external microbes, especially viruses. It is the same as for people; the only way of learning is to confront problems, either as a wild microbe or a fake virus form. This contrived form is known as attenuated viruses because it cannot cause any harm and carries the exact structure of a wild one.
This whole process in the immunology field has the term of generating “immunity” against a microbe. This mechanism functions through recognition by the immune system of the unique influenza structural features. This recognition allows the body to massively produce special cells whose only function is recognizing and attacking this unique microbe. It not only helps to eliminate the threat but also when the same danger enters again. The immune system would be even more effective in eliminating that harmful microbe.
Nevertheless, the recurrence of the seasonal flu can happen because influenza can present to the body’s immune system each way as a different microbe. This distinctive way of presentation halts any previous immunity to the microbe by an earlier infection or flu shot. This continuous evolution of the virus enables it to escape the immune system and caught the body out of guard each time.
How can I get the infection?
The flu infects the overall respiratory system, which means that it affects the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs. Therefore, the spread of the disease occurs mainly through the respiratory tract.
When an infected patient coughs, sneezes, talks within 6 feet or comes in contact with surfaces, it spreads the virus. So, if you are in a close range of people with flu symptoms (such as a cough), touch the contaminated surfaces and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. You would likely get the infection. The possible surfaces with the virus include tables, hands, doorknobs, or even a keypad. It is essential to thoroughly clean all the areas where the sick person has been.
Classically, people who spend more time in populated environments are keener to get the disease, given increased exposure to the virus.
What are the symptoms?
The combination and severity of flu symptoms may vary for each patient. Also, keep in mind these symptoms can also be mistaken with another mild respiratory virus. The most common flu symptoms include the following:
- Fever chills or feeling feverish: It is the most common symptom. The intensity of the fever may also be different between flu cases.
- Runny nose: And also stuffy nose because of the increased production of mucus.
- Sore throat: It can be severe and usually lasts up to 5 days.
- Headache: Usually located in the front of your head or the back of your eyes.
- Weakness, tiredness, or severe fatigue.
- Muscle aches: It can range from mild to severe.
- Cough: Usually starts as a nonproductive cough that becomes productive as the infection progresses. It may also be accompanied by chest pain and difficulty to breath.
What do flu aches feel like?
One of the symptoms that distinguish flu from other respiratory infections is aches. A flu patient can experience both headaches and muscles aches.
Most of the time, the headache is located in the front of the head. It can also be felt behind the eyes, causing discomfort to light or pain upon motion. Regarding muscle pains, they can be pretty intense. In fact, this is the symptom that makes it difficult to continue with your routine when you have Influenza.
Is flu A or B worse?
The respiratory illness by influenza A virus has way more capabilities to spread and cause more severe disease. On the contrary, type B influenza is a less contagious respiratory illness. Still, on occasions, it can lead to flu-related complications.
What other problems can flu cause?
For some specific groups of patients, the influenza virus can cause severe illness. This happens especially with small children, older adults, patients with a weakened immune system, and other respiratory conditions. These groups of patients are more likely to develop flu-related complications and severe symptoms. Among the most common flu complications we have:
- Sinus and ear infections: These are usually moderate complications from the flu.
- Pneumonia: An infection of the lungs. It can be caused by the influenza virus alone when it reaches the lungs. Also, it can be caused by the combination of the influenza virus and bacteria.
- Inflammation of specific organs: Like the heart, brain, and muscles. This is caused directly by the influenza virus and can result in multiorgan failure.
- Sepsis: An extreme inflammatory response of your body towards the virus. This can cause multiorgan failure too.
What is the prognosis of patients who get the flu?
For most of the patients, the prognosis or possible outcomes are really good. Even if you suffer from another disease, you’ll probably recover from the flu within a week.
In fact, most patients won’t even need to go to the doctor or get any medical treatment. On the other side, some other patients will have a higher chance of developing complications. This includes small children, elderly adults, and people with impaired immune systems. Regarding mortality rate, in the last flu season, the virus caused around 24000 to 60000 deaths in the US alone.
Which persons are more in danger if infected?
A group of patients who, if they get the infection, are in severe danger of developing more acute flu symptoms.
This high-risk group would include young children, susceptible older adults (over 65 years), pregnant women, people working in very crowded places, patients with a compromised immune system (f. e. patients taking steroids or chronic HIV positive patients without medication), obese people, any other patient with chronic conditions as diabetes.
What is the difference between cold and flu?
The most crucial difference between a cold and the flu is the cause. Many different viruses can cause the common cold. This includes adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and rhinovirus. The flu is caused only by the Influenza virus.
Furthermore, the symptoms are different between them. Overall, the symptoms of the flu are much more intense. In the common cold, the symptom onset is slower compared to the abrupt start of flu symptoms. In the common cold, symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches, and headaches are uncommon. For the flu, these are really common symptoms that can get pretty intense. On the other side, patients with a common cold are more likely to have runny, stuffed noses than flu patients.
Finally, common colds generally don’t result in serious health problems, unlike influenza, which can cause serious complications.
Is the coronavirus the same as influenza?
Both of them, coronavirus and influenza, are infectious diseases. Just like the pandemic by the COVID-19, influenza caused the Spanish flu ending in 50,000,000 deaths in the 20th century. The two viruses affect the respiratory tract and can cause death in a vulnerable population. Therefore, they are similar but obviously different diseases.
Maybe due to the coronavirus pandemic, you should take a look at COVID-19.
Can your body fight off flu?
Yes. If you are a healthy person, your body is more than able to fight the seasonal flu. This is thanks to your immune system. In fact, even if you suffer from another disease, your body will easily kill the virus in a few days.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t happen to a patient with a weakened immune system. Older patients, small children, and people with autoimmune diseases or, in some medications, can have a weakened immune system. This means that their immune system is not as efficient in fighting infections. This is why these patients are more likely to develop flu complications.
Should you stay in bed with the flu?
It all depends on how you feel. If you experience mild symptoms, there is no need for you to stay all day in bed. However, you need to get some rest. This means that you shouldn’t exercise or perform any activities that can be too hard on your body.
On the other side, you may want to stay in bed if you are experiencing muscle pains or tiredness. And that’s totally okay. Give your body time to fight the infection, and you will get better sooner. Also, you should try to stay at home during this time. This helps to stop spreading the virus during flu season.
What should I do if I have the flu?
As general recommendations, there are a few things you can do if you have the flu:
- Get some rest: Your immune system needs a lot of energy to kill the virus. This may vary depending on the intensity of your symptoms. Therefore, most patients will need to change their activity levels. By resting, you save energy that your body will use to fight the infection.
- Drink plenty of liquids: Especially liquids like water, natural juices, and soups. This helps to keep you hydrated. Dehydration will only make you feel worse during the flu.
- Consider taking pain relievers: Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can ease your aches and make you feel better soon.
I think I have the flu, should I see a doctor?
The great majority of the patients won’t need to see a doctor when they get the flu. This is because most of them will only develop mild symptoms. However, you should go to the doctor if you think there is not going well. Shortness of breath and/or chest pain can be a sign that something’s wrong. Also, patients with asthma, or other conditions, may want to get a check-up even if their symptoms are mild.
Can you die from the flu?
Yes, the flu causes approximately half a million deaths yearly worldwide. If the flu symptoms don’t resolve within fourteen days, some complications may arise. These complications can vary from moderate to strenuous and life-threatening situations.
Moderate complications include respiratory illness as bronchitis, sinusitis, and infections of the ear. Severe complications can be dehydration, widespread body inflammation, multiple organ failure, severe pneumonia, and sepsis.
The particular populations keener to develop these complications is pregnant women, obese people taking aspirin treatment, children below two years, and adults older than 65.
How is the flu diagnosed?
Doctors can diagnose the flu by its symptoms. But this can be tricky sometimes since many respiratory viruses cause similar symptoms. If there’s a doubt, a doctor can perform a flu test.
These latter tests work by processing a sample of the back of your nose or throat. This is to analyze the sample and determine the virus present in it. This way, doctors can know what to expect from the disease. It won’t be necessary most of the time, but a doctor can indicate some blood tests and chest x-ray. This, to see if everything is okay. This is especially important for patients with a higher chance of developing flu complications.
What medications should I take for the flu?
You may pass the flu without taking any medications. However, there are some medications doctors recommend during this period:
- Antiviral medication: The commonly used antiviral drugs to fight the flu include Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). The antiviral medicine helps kill the virus faster but needs to be taken in the first 48 hours. Also, they need to be prescribed by a doctor.
- NSAIDs: This includes over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They will not cure the flu but will help you with fever and pain, making you feel better.
- General measures: Like rest and drinking plenty of liquids will help you recover faster.
When should I go to the emergency department for the flu?
You should seek urgent medical help if:
- Experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Feel chest pain or abdominal pain.
- Vomiting often.
- You are pregnant.
- Have asthma or other respiratory condition.
- Have heart disease.
- Your symptoms suddenly got worse after feeling better.
- You are a risk group for flu complications, including children under two, adults over 65, obese, smokers, people with a weak immune system, and chronic conditions.
So, is the flu vaccine worthy?
Yes, a lot. The flu vaccine is effectively preventing the spread of the seasonal influenza virus. But that is the thing; the flu vaccine needs regular updates to keep track of changing influenza. So a new flu vaccine is created and used each year, approved by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), with the features of that particular influenza structure.
Where can you get more information about the flu vaccine?
Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. So, you must be informed of the benefits of the influenza vaccine. The Center for Disease Control (or CDC) has a great website to find this information.
We will give you the heads up: the flu jab effectively prevents complications and death from the flu. Also, the flu shot can even protect you from bird flu and swine flu. However, you may need to get the flu shot every year. This is because the virus mutates and changes too fast. Therefore, each year, scientists develop a new vaccine for the current flu strain going around. In the covid 19 pandemics context, influenza vaccination is as crucial as getting the covid 19 vaccines.
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?
There are minimal side effects of the flu vaccine. In fact, some people may not even experience any side effects at all. Among the common side effects we have: mild pain at the site of injection, mild fever, fatigue, and mild headache.
How can I prevent the flu?
Many ways of preventing flu infection are available and are very easy to perform. Firstly, avoid crowds and mass gatherings—frequent handwashing with soap and exhaustively drying hands. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Then, many other measures would help boost your immune system against the virus, such as restful sleep, physical activity, eating nutritional food, decreasing stress, and taking time to yourself.
It is important to note that social distancing from the people you care about during symptoms would decrease the chances of infecting them.
Do I have it?
This tool is a Flu Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for the infection. Therefore, the tool will tell anybody who uses it the likelihood that their symptoms are because of the Flu. Using the tool is free and would only take a few minutes.