What is Influenza?
Influenza, or the "flu," is an illness of the breathing system (respiratory system) and muscles caused by a virus. Mild cases of the flu may seem like common colds. But most cases of the flu can be distinguished from colds because the symptoms (cough, muscle aches and pains, sore throat, fatigue, and headache) are more severe than those of the common cold.
The flu is a serious illness that can be fatal in people whose immune systems are weakened, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions. Even healthy people who develop the flu cannot work, attend school, or participate in normal activities for several days. Complications of the flu can develop in anyone and include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, or bronchitis.
What are flu symptoms?
Typical clinical features of influenza include
fever (usually 100 F-103 F in adults and often even higher in children), respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue, sometimes extreme.
Although nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can sometimes accompany influenza infection, especially in children, gastrointestinal symptoms are rarely prominent.
Transmission of Influenza
Influenza can be spread in following main ways:
by direct transmission (when an infected person sneezes mucus directly into the eyes, nose or mouth of another person);
the airborne route (when someone inhales the aerosols produced by an infected person coughing, sneezing or spitting);
through hand-to-eye, hand-to-nose, or hand-to-mouth transmission, either from contaminated surfaces or from direct personal contact such as a hand-shake.
As the influenza virus can persist outside of the body, it can also be transmitted by contaminated surfaces such as banknotes, doorknobs, light switches and other household items
What are some treatments an individual can do at home for the flu?
Increasing liquid intake, warm showers, and warm compresses, especially in the nasal area, can reduce the body aches and reduce nasal congestion.
Nasal strips and humidifiers may help reduce congestion, especially while trying to sleep. Some physicians recommend nasal irrigation with saline to further reduces congestion; some recommend nonprescription decongestants.
Fever can be treated with over-the counter acetaminophen (Tylenol/Paracetamol) or ibuprofen (Brufen and others).
Cough can be suppressed by cough drops and over-the-counter cough syrup. If an individual's symptoms at home get worse, their doctor should be notified.
How to prevent Influenza?
CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.
Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them
When should a person go to the emergency department for the flu?
Seek emergency medical care for a sick child with any of these symptoms:
Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish or gray skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Severe or persistent vomiting
Not waking up or not interacting
Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough
The following are symptoms that should trigger emergency medical care for adults:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Severe or persistent vomiting
Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Remember, if your resistance is down, you should avoid markets, shopping centers, theaters, or crowded places during an epidemic. Keep your distance from people who are sneezing or coughing. Prolonged exposure to wet and cold weather lowers your resistance and increases your risk of infection. Avoid becoming overly tired or rundown. Smoking and alcohol can impair your resistance too.