Influenza is a respiratory ailment caused by influenza viruses. Influenza is considered as one of the fatal viruses because it can cause death if not medically and properly addressed. Flu can be very contagious and is very likely to spread from one person to another through coughing, sneezing, or even direct touching of contaminated things. In some cases, influenza can develop into respiratory complications that will eventually result in death.
Is influenza serious?
In most cases seen, influenza is diagnosed in the early stages due to its unpleasant symptoms. Through this speedy diagnosis, better treatment can be provided for the patient. However, in some cases, particularly in young children, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems, the infection can get serious leading to the development of complications.
Complications that arise from influenza can result in the development of other health conditions such as pneumonia due to a bacterial infection, loss of water from the body or severe dehydration, heart attack, bronchitis or asthma, and even diabetes. Young kids and infants can also suffer from sinus and ear infections due to the influenza viruses.
What happens in an influenza flu?
Influenza or flu virus can catch you unaware. When it does infect a person, the symptoms are strong enough and cannot be missed. In many cases, people can pinpoint the hour when the symptoms started to show. In most cases, the signs start showing up in about one to four days from the day a person acquires the infection. The prominent symptoms include episodes of fever that last for about three days. The temperature may vary from high to low but may last for up to eight days. Other signs like a severe cough, runny nose, and a painful sore throat may also make the infection evident. Generally, all the symptoms resolve on their own beyond three to four days, thus, making the diagnosis easy for the doctors.
You may consider one to two weeks or more for a complete recovery from the flu symptoms. However, general tiredness and weakness may persist for a longer period. There is always an associated risk of complications arising from influenza, which can happen to almost anybody. On the other hand, young children, older adults and people suffering from various ailments are at a higher risk of experiencing influenza-related complications.
Are you at risk of getting influenza?
Certain groups of people have higher chances of acquiring the influenza viral infection. They are:
- Older adults over 65 years of age
- Infants, newborns, and young kids
- Expecting mothers
- People who have a weak heart or other heart-related diseases.
- People who have lung diseases, asthma, or bronchitis.
- People with ailments that are associated with kidney problems or diabetes.
- Those on steroid medications, which tend to weaken the body’s immune system.
- People who are undergoing cancer treatments and receiving radiations such as chemotherapy.
- People who have long-term diseases and ailments that take a toll on their functional immunity.
Treatment of Influenza
In the case of healthier individuals, influenza takes about a week or so to settle down. If basic medication and lots of rest at home are taken, one can recover fast. You may be advised to stay indoors and be isolated so as to prevent others from catching the infection from you. However, in some severe cases, patients are required to be treated in the hospital. This happens when influenza results in respiratory distress, pneumonia, or worsening a person's existing medical condition. Doctors prescribe antiviral medications for those with severe symptoms. These are the most effective methods of treating flu.
Everything You Need to Know About the Flu Vaccine
The best and proven way to prevent the flu is through vaccination. You can prevent yourself from the influenza virus by getting a vaccine shot every year. Influenza vaccines are available in two forms:
- Flu shot - is like any other vaccine that is given through an injection in the arm area. It is recommended for older adults and anyone above six months of age including healthy adults and children.
- Nasal spray - is given as a nasal mist for those who are either afraid of injections or for extremely young infants. The nasal spray is also a vaccine that comprises live flu viruses, which are weakened and do not cause the illness.
Flu vaccines can be trivalent or quadrivalent. Trivalent vaccines are the traditional vaccines given to protect people from contracting the influenza B virus and two types of influenza A viruses, namely H1N1 and H3N2.
With time, the viruses are capable of changing their forms. That is why there is a need to have an annual vaccination. There are studies conducted to determine which strains of viruses will be prevalent for that particular year. The virus becomes active and starts protecting the body at about two weeks after receiving the vaccine.
Every year, new strains of the flu vaccine are announced in September. It is given during the season wherein the flu is most active up to January and sometimes extending even beyond. Although there are predictions made with regards to the flu outbreaks around mid-January, no one can really be sure when the flu could suddenly make way. In some cases, flu incidences are reported early around October.
Expectant mothers can reduce the risks of their children getting infected with serious flu symptoms by almost 50 percent by getting vaccinated during pregnancy.
When are you not fit to get the flu vaccine?
For some people, there are risks involved in getting a flu vaccine. Such people include:
- those who have a chronic allergy to chicken eggs
- those who have experienced an allergic reaction to flu shots administered in the past
- people who developed symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six months from receiving the flu shot
- infants who are below six months of age
- those suffering from other illnesses including fever and flu
Do the flu vaccines have side effects?
Side effects are reactions that occur from the use of various medications. Flu vaccines are considered safe. The same types of vaccines are being administered to individuals for many decades. Since it is a preventive vaccine primarily prescribed by doctors, extensive research goes into ensuring the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. There is no better way to safeguard yourself and your loved ones than getting a flu vaccine. It does not only reduce your chances of getting the flu but also prevents others from catching the same. Half of the information regarding the flu and its components raises some questions regarding the vaccine itself. Since the vaccine uses live, weakened flu viruses, many people believe that a flu vaccine could lead to flu itself. However, this is entirely untrue as the viruses used in the flu shot are inactive in form and do not have any capability to cause the flu. The live viruses used in the nasal spray also have a changed form that cannot result in the development of flu.
Some people may experience slight side effects due to the flu vaccine, but none of these are serious and will fade away on their own without any medical intervention. Some of these side effects include:
- skin irritation or swelling in the area where the flu shot was administered
- mild headache
- slight fever
- vomiting or nausea
- muscular pains and aches
A rare side effect that is associated with the influenza vaccine is the risk of acquiring the Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). This condition is extremely rare, and the occurrence is restricted to about 1 to 2 cases per million of the vaccines administered.
Apart from these common side effects, any serious symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, swelling around the eyes, and unexplained fatigue must be immediately consulted to the doctor for better treatment and immediate relief.