What is influenza?
Influenza, also known as the flu, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs). Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, and fatigue. The flu can be serious and can lead to hospitalization or death, especially in high-risk groups such as young children, elderly people, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Transmission of flu occurs through respiratory droplets when a person suffering from infection talks, coughs, or sneezes. Its prevention is possible through vaccination and by practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently.
What are some signs and symptoms of influenza?
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
Symptoms usually come on suddenly and can be severe. Symptoms can last anywhere from 2-7 days, with the most severe symptoms usually resolving within 3-5 days, however, it’s not uncommon to feel weak, exhausted, or have a cough or sore throat for a week or more.
Diagnosis of Influenza:
Influenza (the flu) is typically diagnosed based on a combination of symptoms, medical history, and a physical examination. In some cases, a laboratory test may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
The most common diagnostic test for influenza is a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT), which can detect the presence of influenza virus antigens in a nasal or throat swab sample. RIDT is fast and can provide results within 15-20 minutes, but it is not as accurate as viral culture or PCR test.
Another test that can be used is the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, which can detect the genetic material of the influenza virus in a nasal or throat swab sample. This test is highly accurate, but results may take several days to come back.
A healthcare professional may also diagnose influenza based on the patient’s symptoms, especially if the patient has typical symptoms of influenza and there is a known outbreak of influenza in the community.
It’s important to note that other respiratory infections such as the common cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia can have similar symptoms as influenza, so a diagnosis must be in requirement.
Treatment of (Flu) Influenza:
Treatment of Influenza (the flu) usually involves self-care measures and over-the-counter medications.
For symptom relief, the following can be helpful:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking fluids to stay hydrated
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever, headache, and muscle aches
- Using a humidifier to help relieve congestion
- Taking over-the-counter decongestants to relieve nasal congestion
If you have severe symptoms or are at high risk of complications, your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medications such as oseltamivir or zanamivir. These drugs can shorten the duration of the illness and reduce the severity of symptoms. These medications work best when started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
It’s important to note that antibiotics are not effective in treating influenza because a virus is responsible, not a bacteria.
It’s also important to note that prevention through vaccination is a key measure to avoid getting influenza, and is recommended to get a flu shot every year.
Is influenza (Flu) different from a cold?
Influenza (the flu) and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but their causative organisms are different viruses.
The flu is caused by influenza viruses, while the common cold is usually caused by one of several different types of rhinoviruses.
The symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be similar and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue, but the flu tends to have more severe symptoms and can lead to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and hospitalization. Symptoms of the flu tend to come on suddenly and can cause severe illness. Whereas cold symptoms tend to come on gradually and are generally less severe. The flu typically lasts for a week or more while a cold usually lasts for 7 to 10 days.
It’s important to note that a cold is not the same as the flu. And the flu is a more severe illness than a cold. If you suspect you have the flu, it’s best to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.