Understanding Influenza: Symptoms, Causes, and Cure

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Influenza or flu is a contagious disease of the respiratory system caused by influenza viruses. Although some people dismiss its symptoms and mistake them for the common cold, influenza is a much more serious health issue. It may cause mild to severe illness and in extreme cases it may lead to death, especially when complications arise and not enough proper treatment is given.

For a period of 30 years from 1976 to 2006, annual flu-related mortality rates in the United States were from a low of 3,000 to as high as 49,000. Recently, 80 to 90 percent of flu-related deaths involved people aged 65 years and older.

Symptoms of Influenza

Some or all of these symptoms may be felt by people who have flu:

  • Fever or chills – Although this is common, it should be noted that not all who have flu will have fever.
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Runny nose or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling of tiredness
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Vomiting and diarrhea – Some adults may have these symptoms but they are more common in children.

Most people who have influenza will recuperate in a few days to less than two weeks. However some people develop complications with the flu. Pneumonia is a common complication but some can be more serious and life-threatening and may even result to death.

Other common complications as a result of flu are bronchitis, sinus and ear infections. The flu can also make the chronic disease the patient may have worse. A  person with asthma may suffer asthma attacks while having flu and those with heart ailments may experience worsening of their heart conditions, with the flu triggering them.

While any person, healthy or not, may get flu, some people are more vulnerable to flu-related complications when they get sick. This includes old people aged 65 years and above. Also with a high risk of complications from flu are those with medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, young children and pregnant women.

Causes of Influenza

There are three types of influenza virus that cause flu – types A, B and C. The seasonal outbreak of flu that we experience are coming from influenza viruses A and B. Type B influenza viruses circulate only among humans while type A viruses are found in animals like chicken, ducks, pigs and horses.

The most common way flu is transmitted from one person to another is through sneezing or coughing of the person afflicted with flu. The other ways influenza virus is caught by people is through their touching a contaminated surface or object then putting their hands in their mouth or nose. In some cases, people  infected by the flu virus can contaminate others without them realizing it. This is because they can already infect others one day before the flu symptoms develop in them. The transmission of the virus to others can happen up to seven days after being sick.

Treatment of Influenza

You can treat influenza from your home. Here are the some of the actions you can take:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of water and liquids.
  • Take medications to relieve the flu symptoms. Aspirin or ibuprofen can help to alleviate the symptoms of fever, muscle aches and headaches that go with the flu. Aspirin should, however, not be used to treat children with flu-like symptoms.
  • Stay away from alcohol and tobacco.

You may also take the antiviral drugs prescribed by your doctor. Prescription medications to treat the flu are usually given, depending on the severity and duration of the illness, and taking to account your medical history.

Getting vaccinated with a flu shot every year is probably the most important step you can take to prevent having flu, especially to protect children. See your health care provider when you develop flu-like symptoms. You should especially be conscious if you are at high risk for complications of the flu. Flu is not just one of those minor ailments that you can simply ignore.

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