The flu, or influenza, is an infectious disease that is triggered by the influenza virus. Flu (that is, the influenza virus) infects the respiratory tract – the nose, throat, and lungs. Although there is also something called the stomach flu, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, this one is different. Influenza or the flu is acutely infectious, usually spread by sneezes and coughs of an infected person, or even by shaking hands. Flu symptoms range from mild to severe, and the most common ones include runny nose, sore throat, high fever, headache, coughing, muscle pains and feeling tired. Usually, people with conventional or seasonal flu recover completely in a couple of weeks at the most; however, there may be cases when the flu can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, pneumonia being one of them. The flu can make chronic health problems worse, too. But, for most of us, we usually have the “conventional” or “seasonal” flu strains, and they resolve within a 10-to-14-day time period. Standard treatments and tests for flu are available at major diagnostics and lab centers in the city.
Influenza, or the flu, is caused by the RNA virus that infects the respiratory tract of humans, birds and animals. Air droplets carry the flu virus when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. Others pick up the germs when they inhale the droplets directly or pick the germs up from an object, usually a computer keyboard or telephone, and the flu infection is transferred to the nose, mouth or eyes. Once affected by flu (influenza virus), the flu symptoms swiftly follow – some of which are listed below. Compared to most other respiratory infections, the flu (common cold) tends to be a more severe illness. The gestation time for flu is about 1 to 4 days.
There are 4 types of flu or influenza viruses – A, B, C and D. Influenza A generally causes the most complications in humans. The seasonal disease that people have during winter is caused by Influenza types A and B. Influenza type C generally causes a very minor health disruption, in most cases without symptoms. Influenza type D viruses affect cattle only.
Amongst the types of flu only type influenza causes pandemics (spread of the disease on a global scale) in humans. Some circumstances have to be met for a pandemic to occur:
The bird flu virus or the H5N1 virus is a deadly virus and can be fatal for humans. On the other hand, the H1N1 virus is harmless 99% of the time and people get it mostly for a couple of weeks only, but 1% or less of the time it is fatal.
That feverish feeling we sometimes get when it becomes difficult to move a muscle and we are coughing and sneezing all day, could be symptoms of flu. Flu symptoms can be similar to that of a common cold, with the difference that the latter is a milder respiratory illness as compared to the flu. Symptoms of the common cold can give us the ‘blues’ for a few days and then pass. However, The flu will bring you down for a few days, make one feel quite ill and even require hospitalization. Of course, in certain cases, the flu can also lead to serious health hazards such as pneumonia.
Some of the common symptoms of Flu include:
Fortunately, in most cases, a bout of flu (influenza) will resolve on its own. However, sometimes the flu and its problems might escalate and turn serious and even deadly. Some individuals have higher chances of developing complications from the flu, including:
Seasonal influenza is not generally serious if you are young and healthy. The flu usually resolves in a week or 2 without any lasting effects. However, children and adults who are at high risk may develop problems such as:
There are several steps we can take to control the spread of flu or the influenza virus. A concerted effort on everyone’s part can go a long way to reducing the incidence of flu in our society. Some of the measures we can take to curb the spread of flu are:
Washing of hands. Indeed, frequent and thorough hand washes is a simple and efficient way to avert a host of common infections, including the flu.
Containing the coughs and sneezes. Covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing controls the spread of the flu virus. Using a tissue paper or coughing or sneezing into the inner crook of the elbow prevents contamination of the hands, from where the flu (influenza) virus can otherwise be transferred easily.
Avoiding crowds. By evading crowds during peak flu season, the chances of contamination by the flu (influenza) virus infection can be reduced. Also, staying home for at least 24 hours after a bout of flu fever subsides also curtails the risk of infecting others with the flu (influenza) virus.
A flu (influenza) vaccination annually can prevent much of the illness and death caused by conventional or seasonal influenza.
The influenza A virus undergoes recurrent antigenic changes that necessitates the development of new vaccines and mandates that we get a new vaccination every year.
The flu causing strains vary yearly, hence the efficiency and efficacy of the flu vaccine varies yearly, too.
The following actions at home may help ease flu symptoms:
Drinking lots of liquid. Water, juice and warm soups help the body to remain hydrated and play a part in the treatment of flu (influenza virus). A warm bowl of soup can additionally help soothe a sore throat.
Rest. Sleeping helps the immune system to fight off a flu (influenza) infection. Based on the symptoms, one can adjust their activity level accordingly and give time for the body to heal from flu (influenza virus).
Contemplate using pain relievers. To fight the achiness that is related to influenza or the flu, one can use over-the-counter pain relievers; for e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen. On the other hand, teenagers or children who are recuperating from influenza or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin since there is a risk of developing Reye’s syndrome, a rare but possibly lethal condition.
During the flu season, the healthcare practitioner will attempt to decipher whether your symptoms are due to seasonal flu or influenza type A or B – or some other reason. The healthcare practitioner must be consulted within 3 to 4 days of the start of signs and symptoms of flu (influenza) – such as headache, fever, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, sore throat, cough, stuffy sometimes a runny nose. In case one is hospitalized, has a weak immune system or is at an increased risk of flu or influenza, it is imperative that one gets tested for influenza or flu virus at the earliest.
Influenza virus (flu) testing is not mandatory or 100% essential in order to make a clinical diagnosis of influenza or flu, particularly during flu season when influenza A and B are rampant. Nevertheless, flu virus testing can help in clinical management decisions such as whether to start antiviral treatment, perform other diagnostic testing or to execute infection prevention and control measures for influenza. Influenza virus testing is recommended for all patients who have suspected influenza and who are being admitted to hospital.
Some of the tests recommended are:
• Rapid Molecular Assays.
• Other Molecular Assays (e.g., Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction or RT-PCR).
• Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests (RIDTs).
• Viral culture.
• Serologic testing.
• Novel influenza A virus infections.
House of Diagnostics offers affordable and quick flu or influenza tests to ensure your preparedness against ailments and general well-being of your health. You can book a test for yourself – or someone else who needs help – in just a few clicks here.
Tests for Flu or Influenza Available At House of Diagnostics (HOD).