The flu (also known as influenza) is a common name for respiratory infections caused by viruses of a specific type. The peculiarity of this disease is in the fact that sometimes and for some people it causes just a mild illness, while for others it can appear very serious and even deadly.
The main risk groups of influenza are older people (over 65 years), as well as newborn children and patients suffering from some chronic illnesses, especially related to respiratory system, for example COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Statistics and Facts about the Flu
Although most of us do not consider flu as a dangerous disease, the statistical data are proving the seriousness of the infections leading to influenza.
Here are the most interesting data and facts related to flu:
- About 650 000 people die of seasonal respiratory diseases linked to influenza every year.
- The first scientific description of the symptoms of flu was provided by Hippocrates.
- The first influenza pandemic had been registered in 1889 causing about 1 million deaths.
- The worst and the deadliest flu pandemic broke out in 1918 and took 20-40 million of lives.
- Modern studies show, that the pandemic of the year 1918 could have killed 50-80 million people, if it would emerge nowadays.
How Does the Flu Spread?
Since flu is caused by respiratory viruses and is proven to have the ability to spread from person to person, the diseases is treated as a very contagious.
Patients with flu tend to cough and sneeze a lot, that supports the spread of the viruses significantly. The tiny droplets sprain from a sick person can easily get to the respiratory system of all surrounding people. Moreover, the contagious droplets can survive on different surfaces and spread through touching them and then touching the face.
The Symptoms of the Flu
The main symptoms of the flu are:
- Feverish or chilling feeling, as well as a fever itself
- Continues and painful cough
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches spreading across the body
- Increased tiredness and weakness
- Continuous headaches
- Rarely appearing: diarrhea and vomiting.
It is also important to differentiate the flu and the cold. The main difference between these diseases is the way the symptoms appear: cold is usually progressing slowly and have milder symptoms, while the symptoms of flu appear very fast and feel much severe. Fever and headaches are rarely experienced by patients with colds.
Some severe symptoms of the flu should be treated much seriously. Noting the following symptoms should immediately lead to seek the emergency medical care:
- Shortness of breath or notable difficulties while breathing
- Chest or abdomen persistent pain
- Continuous confusion, dizziness, weakness, inability to stand up
- Absence of urination for a long period of time
- Severe muscle pain
- Worsening fever or cough (especially after temporary improvement)
- Worsening of the existing chronic diseases or conditions
- Fever over 104 °F (or over 40 °C)
Complications of the Flu
The flu can evolve and develop some serious complications without a proper treatment, especially when it comes to the main risk groups, which are:
- People older than 65 years
- Newborns and children under the age of 5
- Pregnant women
- Patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
The most common list of complication includes:
- Bronchitis (bronchial tubes inflammation)
- Pneumonia (lung infection)
- Otitis (ear infection)
- Sinusitis (the infection inside the hollow air spaces within the nose bones)
- Myocarditis (heart inflammation), encephalitis (brain infection), or different muscle tissues infections (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
The Diagnosis of the Flu
Since flu has lots of obvious symptoms, your physician can diagnose it based on your medical history and the general body examination.
However, there are opportunities to determine the real cases of flu with the help of various tests. These tests are usually taken in more complicated cases (for examples, for pregnant women) or in the corresponding epidemiological context.
Basically, there are 2 types of flu tests: quick and laboratory. The quick tests can be performed within 10-20 minutes but do not provide a 100% guarantee of the right result. The laboratory tests require special equipment and usually take more than 1 hour. They are much more accurate, then their rapid analogues.
The Treatment of the Flu
Most patient experiencing influenza do not need special medical treatment and are able to recover with the help of their own immune system. It is strongly recommended to stay home and decline of any unnecessary contacts to protect the surrounding people from the virus spread.
Vitamin C and zinc help to slightly reduce the flow of the disease. Note, that zinc can have some side effects and consult with your physician before taking it.
However, if you experience the severe symptoms listed above, and/or are in the group of risk, then it is important to consult your physician or any closest hospital for an immediate medical care.
In some cases, special antiviral medicines are prescribed. These drugs help the patient`s immune system in the struggle with the virus and can shorten the period of illness or make the symptoms milder. This type of medicine is mostly effective when taken not late than 2 days from getting sick.
The Prevention of the Flu
Actually, there are 2 proven ways to minimize your risk of getting influenza even within a bad epidemiological context (during seasonal outbreaks of the flu). These methods are: get vaccinated and stick to good health habits. The methods are working at their best, when they are combined.
The facts about flu vaccination you should know:
- Flu vaccination is most effective before the seasonal disease begins (by the end of October)
- Doctors advise to get vaccinated against flu every year
- Flu vaccines protect you from the most commonly met types of the influenza viruses
- The vaccination can also reduce the period of the illness and soften its symptoms
- The death risks of influenza are significantly reduced among vaccinated children
- People who take care of the patients with the flu, should also be vaccinated to reduce the risk of virus spread
Good Health Habits against the Flu
These are the common pieces of advice for those who would like to stay healthy and avoid the flu, as well as thousands of other infection types:
- Avoid the close contact with people who have the flu or cold symptoms
- Limit your own contact with other people during your illness
- Do not forget to wash your hands with water and soap; you can also use disinfectants when water and soap are not available
- Try to minimize the touches of your face in the moments when your hands are not disinfected
- Disinfect surfaces and objects with which you are constantly having contact
Although flu can spread enormously quickly, we are able to stop it with our healthy lifestyle choices, including vaccination, washing hands and limiting the contacts with the sick people.
Develop the good lifestyle habits and stay healthy!