What Is Flu?
Flu illness or influenza is an acute respiratory infection caused by influenza virus. It is the commonest communicable disease that affects millions of people each year. It can infect people of all ages and both genders.
Influenza viruses are of 3 types- A, B and C. Out of these, A and B types infects humans and have caused epidemics in the past.
Type-A influenza virus frequently undergoes antigenic shifts, which means that they have a tendency to alter their strains. This is the reason why we there are chances of re-infection with some another strain of influenza virus. Type B virus is an exception as it does not tend to alter it strain.
Signs and Symptoms of Flu
Respiratory infection with influenza can have the following presentation
- Fever with chills lasting for 1-5 days
- Generalised weakness and a feeling of discomfort
- Aching in muscles and joints
- A headache
- Watery discharge from nose
- Watering of eyes
- A sore throat and dry cough
- Loss of appetite with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also be present
Some patients do not experience fever at all, while some recover completely within a few days without any medications. In spite of having a common presentation, this illness has an unpredictable behaviour. It can affect a small group of people at a time or there can be a sudden outburst causing epidemics and pandemics. The most recent one being H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009. Incubation period is 18 to 72 hours
Spread of Flu Illness
- Influenza viruses have been isolated from pigs, horses, dogs, poultry animals and birds which prove that they are potential reservoirs for type A viruses.
- Humans are also known reservoirs of the virus. Influenza virus spreads more rapidly among children.
- When an infected person cough or sneezes, the infected respiratory droplets are released which are inhaled by a healthy person causing infection.
- It can also be spread from contaminated surfaces like tables and door knobs.
- Overcrowding as in schools, institutions and marketplaces is a major factor which enhances the spread of infection.
When To Go To The Doctor For Flu?
Flu may have a mild illness in some patients and a full blown infection in others. It is important to visit your doctor or go to a hospital for flu in the following cases
- Serious complications of the lower respiratory tract like secondary bacterial bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Other serious complications of flu include infection of the heart, brain and multiple-organ failure.
- Secondary bacterial of the sinuses and middle ear are common.
You need to call your doctor and get immediate treatment if you notice any of the warning signs and symptoms
- Persistent high grade fever with chills.
- Convulsions during fever.
- Fever with rash especially in children and infants
- Persistent, severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- A cough with blood in mucus
- Difficulty in breathing or fast breathing
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Swollen and painful glands in the neck
These above mentioned warning signs of a severe flu infection. These signs and symptoms indicate serious, often life-threatening complications
Which Need To Be Treated Urgently
High risk patient groups which need prompt medical attention are
- Infants and children
- Pregnant women
- Elderly people above the age of 55-60 years
- People having diabetes, hypertension and chronic obstructive or restrictive lung diseases or other major illnesses
- People with a compromised immune status as in HIV
- Cigarette smokers
- Healthcare providers like doctors, nurses and other staff members of a healthcare unit
Particular care needs to be taken if the infected person is a pregnant woman or an infant. Treatment in such high risk patients should not be delayed and home remedies may be used as an adjunct to conventional anti-viral drugs to control and get rid of flu.
Flu can have after effects like a persistent cough and prolonged weakness. Although there is definite recovery yet, it can interfere with daily routine chores of the patient.
How Can You Manage Flu At Home?
Milder, uncomplicated forms of illness can be treated at home or certain simple home remedies can reduce infectivity and give immediate relief from signs and symptoms.
- Warm Salt Water Gargles – This prevents secondary bacterial infection. It also relieves a sore throat.
- Plenty of Liquids – Drink ample amount of water to flush out toxins. Soups, teas and broths also help in soothing the throat. Not having enough water especially if you have vomiting or diarrhea will make you dehydrated.
- Rest – Take rest if you have flu. It is important to relax and also prevents spread of infection to other people at work or school.
- Steam – Inhaling steam soothes the throat and airways. If you have dry cough during flu, steam will reduce the bouts and intensity of cough. Steam works best when you have sinusitis because of flu.
- Vitamin C – This is an anti-oxidant and also stimulates faster recovery from colds and flu.
Vitamin C can be taken as tablets or from natural sources like oranges, tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables
How To Prevent Flu?
Infection with flu and its spread can be prevented by taking very simple measures.
- Wash your hands before and after meals or after visiting an infected person.
- While sneezing or coughing, use your hand or a handkerchief to cover your mouth to avoid spreading infection.
- If you have flu like symptoms, take complete rest at home to avoid infecting other people.
- Avoid close contact with an infected person.
- Flu vaccines must be given to high risk individuals like health care providers, pregnant women, elderly people and people belonging to a household at high risk for having flu.
- Take the prescribed medicines timely.
- Adequate sleep, regular exercise and a balanced diet help in maintaining immunity and can also prevent flu illness.