Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. The flu is different from a cold. flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the flu.
Cold vs. the Flu
It’s important to learn which kind of illness you’re dealing with. That’s because the flu can have serious complications, like the lung infection pneumonia. Flu treatments work best within 48 hours of the time symptoms start.
Flu: Comes on Fast and Furious
If you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, it’s probably the flu. Symptoms like sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches, congestion, and cough tend to come on suddenly. Colds are usually less intense and include a runny or stuffy nose. The flu gets better over 2 to 5 days, but you might feel run-down for a week or longer. Colds come on slowly and last about a week.
Fever: Usually Means Flu
While some people may get a slight fever when they have a cold, most don’t. If you have the flu, you’ll probably run a temperature of 100-102 degrees or higher. Children’s flu fevers tend to be higher. Kids may also be more likely to have a fever with the common cold.
Flu: Fatigue Can Last for Weeks
You likely start off feeling extremely tired and achy all over. That fatigue and weakness may last for up to 3 weeks — or even longer in seniors and people with long-term (chronic) diseases or a weak immune system. With a cold, you usually feel bad for just a few days.
Colds and Flu: Both Can Cause Headaches
Still, a headache that comes along with a cold, like other symptoms that result from the virus, tends to be milder than one caused by flu.
Coughs: Sign of Both Colds and Flu
Colds and flu are respiratory illnesses, which affect your airways, so both can cause coughing. Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be a complication of the flu. Call your doctor if you have a persistent cough, fever higher than 102 degrees and chills, a hard time breathing, shortness of breath, or chest pain when you cough — or if you hack up yellow-green or bloody phlegm.
Earaches: Can Come From Colds or Flu
Both ailments irritate the eustachian tube that connects your throat to your middle ear. This can cause dull or burning pain. Cold- and flu-related earaches usually go away by themselves.
See your doctor if the ache lasts longer than your sickness or you feel sudden, strong pain. You may have an ear infection that needs treatment.
Colds: Often Start With Sore Throat
This early symptom tends to last for 1 to 2 days. A runny and stuffy nose is also common. Sore throats come with the flu, too. But if you have it, you’ll probably have fatigue and other symptoms that come on all at once.
Stuffy Nose: May Mean a Cold
Unless you’re also feverish, very achy, and just plain zapped of energy, you likely have a cold — although many people with the flu also say they have a stuffy nose and sneezing.
Both colds and the flu can lead to sinus infections. These are marked by a deep and constant pain around your cheekbones, forehead, or the bridge of the nose. The pain usually gets worse with sudden head movement or strain. You’ll need a doctor to treat a sinus infection.
People at High Risk from Flu
Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.
Colds: OTC Drugs Can Ease Symptoms
Drugstore medicines like decongestants, cough suppressants, and antihistamines can help congestion, coughing, and nasal symptoms. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can treat pain or a headache.
Read the active ingredients and warnings on all product labels. Many cough and cold medicines contain the same ingredients, so you could accidentally overdose unless you’re careful. Don’t give aspirin to a child under 18.
How flu spreads
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It also is important to wash hands often with soap and water. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be cleaned with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill.
The Flu Is Contagious
Points to Remember
- Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning first day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.
- Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days.
- Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
- Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.
Cover your Cough
People with flu can spread the illness easily, as the infectious period starts one day before symptoms show. The virus is usually spread in the small droplets of saliva coughed or sneezed into the atmosphere by an infected person. Direct contact with contaminated hands can also pass the virus on to a healthy person. After five days of flu-like symptoms, risk of spreading the virus reduces.
Hand-Washing Is Key
Wash your hands well so you don’t spread the flu to other people. Use soap and warm water. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds. Don’t forget the areas between your fingers and around your nails. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
Wash often during cold and flu season, especially after you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose. Can’t find a tissue? Sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands.
Get a flu shot. It’s made from harmless versions of the flu virus, and it helps your body recognize and fight when you’re exposed to the real thing. Despite what you may hear, it doesn’t give you the flu.
Does the flu vaccine work the same for everyone?
No. While the flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the flu, protection can vary widely depending on who is being vaccinated (in addition to how well matched the flu vaccine is with circulating viruses). In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses might develop less immunity than healthy children and adults after vaccination. However, even for these people, the flu vaccine still may provide some protection.
How effective is the flu vaccine in the elderly?
Older people with weaker immune systems often have a lower protective immune response after flu vaccination compared to younger, healthier people. This can result in lower vaccine effectiveness in these people.
How effective is the flu vaccine in children?
In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy adults and children older than 2 years of age. Lesser benefits of flu vaccine are often found in studies of young children (e.g., those younger than 2 years of age) and older adults (e.g., adults 65 years of age and older).
Treatments for flu
As flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics cannot help, unless the flu has led to another illness caused by bacteria. Some of the symptoms, such as headache and body pains may be alleviated by painkillers.
Individuals with flu should do the following to avoid Flu
Complications of flu
Complications of flu mostly affect people in high-risk groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those who have a long-term medical condition or weakened immune system. This is why it’s important for people in these groups to have the annual flu vaccination and consider seeing their GP if they develop symptoms of flu.
In some people with long-term health conditions, getting flu can make their condition worse. For example, people with lung conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may find that their symptoms become more severe when they get the flu.
In people with diabetes, flu can affect blood sugar levels, potentially causing hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) or, in people with type 1 diabetes, diabetic ketoacidosis (a dangerous condition caused by a lack of insulin in the body).
If you have type 1 diabetes or have type 2 diabetes and take insulin, it’s a good idea to monitor your blood sugar level more closely while you’re feeling unwell.
The most common complication of flu is a bacterial chest infection, such as bronchitis. Occasionally, this can become serious and develop into pneumonia.
A course of antibiotics usually cures a chest infection or pneumonia, but it can very occasionally become life-threatening, particularly in the frail and elderly.
If you get flu while you’re pregnant, there’s a risk that the infection could cause problems with your pregnancy. Flu may cause you to go into premature labour (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), or it may result in your baby having a low birth weight. Occasionally, getting flu during pregnancy can result in a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Less common complications of flu include:
- tonsillitis – inflammation of the tonsils
- otitis media – an infection of the middle ear
- sinusitis – inflammation of the lining of the sinuses (small, air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead)
- febrile seizures (convulsions) – a fit that can happen when a child has a fever
- meningitis – infection in the brain and spinal cord
- encephalitis – inflammation of the brain
If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there’s usually no need to visit your GP if you have flu-like symptoms. You should just rest at home until you feel better, while keeping warm, drinking plenty of water and taking painkillers if necessary.
- you’re 65 years of age or over
- you’re pregnant
- you have a long-term medical condition – such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because you’re having chemotherapy or have HIV
- you develop chest pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or start coughing up blood
- your symptoms are getting worse over time or haven’t improved after a week
Swine Flu Vaccines
Swine Flu Symptoms…
What Vaccine to Give and When – Immunization Vaccination Schedule
How Do Vaccines Help My Child?
Vaccination TIPs …
Flu Measures to Take, Symptoms and Risk Factors
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