Overview of the Flu
The flu is a viral infection that will attack the respiratory system, specifically the lungs, throat, and nose. The formal name for the flu is influenza. Most of the time, there is no cure for the flu and it will resolve on its own. In some cases though, the flu can be deadly.
Risk Factors with the Flu
Some people are at a higher risk for contracting the flu, and even experiencing complications with the flu as well. These people include: people who are obese, young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, people that live in a nursing home, or people with a weakened immune system. The flu shot is not always perfectly effective; it is the best defense against the flu.
Symptoms with the Flu
The flu usually presents itself as a common cold. You may experience a runny nose, sneezing, or even a sore throat. A true cold usually develops slowly, but the flu will come on much faster. You usually feel much worse with the flu as well. Common symptoms that are associated with the flu include: sore throat, nasal congestion, fever over 100.4, dry cough, headache, aching muscles, chills, sweats, and fatigue.
When to see a Doctor when you have the Flu
Most of the time, people try to treat themselves when they have the flu. You will want to see your physician when you believe you are at a risk for complications. Your physician may recommend an antiviral medication within the first 2 days of noticing symptoms.
Causes of the Flu
The flu virus usually travels through the air. This means that when someone who has the flu coughs, talks, or sneezes, those germs are in the air. You can either inhale the germs from them, or can pick them up on other objects, such as if you share a telephone or keyboard. They can be transmitted through the eyes, nose, or mouth.
The strains of the flu change very regularly. If you have had the flu in the past, then your body has already prepared antibodies against that strain, but you will likely seen new strains in the future. When you receive the influenza vaccine, then your body will have an easier time fighting off infection. It most cases, you will not even realize that your body is fighting off the virus.
Complications with the Flu
In most young and healthy people, the flu is miserable but is not very serious. Usually the flu goes away within a week or two with no long lasting effects. People that are at a higher risk for complications with the flu may also experience: ear infections, heart problems, pneumonia, bronchitis, or asthma flare ups. For older people with chronic illnesses, pneumonia can be deadly.
How to Prevent the Flu
The best way to prevent the flu is to receive the shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone over the age of 6 months old take the flu shot. Each year, the shot will protect against the three or four most likely strains of the flu. Most types of vaccination do have a small amount of egg protein, so this is important to mention to your physician if you have an egg allergy.
It is also important to take necessary precautions during flu season, such as regularly washing your hands, avoiding crowds, and containing your sneezes and/ or coughs. The flu germ spreads so easily, so you will need to do whatever is necessary to keep the germs away from your body. Even if you have elected to take the flu shot, you will want to take these precautions.
Diagnosing the Flu
The first step to diagnosing the flu is to complete a physical examination. Your physician will look for signs and symptoms of the flu. The most common test to check for the flu is a rapid influenza diagnostics test. This will look for antigens on a swab from the back of the nose or throat. These results are not always accurate.
Treating the Flu
To properly treat the flu, you will need to have lots of bed rest and plenty of fluids. In some cases, your physician may recommend an antiviral medication. If you take these soon after the diagnosis, then your illness will be shortened by a day or so and will prevent other complications that are associated with the flu.
Home Remedies for the Flu
While there is no true remedy for the flu, there are many things that may help to make you feel better. Drinking plenty of liquids, specifically warm soups, will help combat dehydration. Plenty of rest will help your immune system fight off the infection. There are many over the counter pain relievers that can help to relieve the aches that are associated with the flu. It is best to stay home for as long as possible in an effort to stop spreading the germs.
Facts about the Flu
- Flu season is typically from October to May. During this time of year, millions of people in the United States are diagnosed with the flu. The most common age group for this is kids.
- You may pass on the flu before you even realize you have the flu. It is important to be careful about avoiding crowds and washing your hands frequently during flu season. You should take these precautions even if you do not believe that you have been in contact with someone that has the flu.
- The flu is considered the most serious disease in America. More people die from the flu than any other vaccine-preventable disease.
- Every year, nearly 20% of the population gets the flu.
- Children are able to spread the virus around for longer than adults.
- The flu can last anywhere from 1-2 weeks, depending on your overall health. The most severe symptoms will usually go away within two to three days. Weakness and fatigue can last for up to a week or even longer.
- The first sign of the flu is a common cold.