Flu - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Flu, also known as influenza, is a viral infection that affects your respiratory system.


What causes influenza?

Influenza is caused by the influenza virus.


Risk factors for getting influenza:

Preexisting lung diseases:

Preexisting lung diseases like COPD, asthma, bronchiectasis predispose a person to a higher risk of getting influenza and its complications.


Age:

Children less than 5 years old and adults above 65 have a higher chance of getting influenza.


Obesity:

Obese people are more likely to develop flu complications than those who are not obese.


Lowered immunity:

Any condition that causes immune system suppression causes different bacteria to infect an individual as the immune system is responsible for fighting off infections. Health conditions like AIDS, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes, etc can predispose a person to catch various infections like influenza.


Aspirin use in children:

Children who receive aspirin while having an influenza infection can develop complications such as Reye’s syndrome- a serious medical condition that causes swelling in the brain and liver.


Pregnancy:

Pregnant women are at a higher risk for getting influenza complications.


Symptoms of influenza:


The symptoms of influenza develop fast and initially resemble common cold and present with:


  • Sneezing

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose


Over time, you may feel worse and may experience the following symptoms:


  • Body aches

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Dry cough

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Eye pain


Complications of influenza:

Influenza infection generally resolves on its own, but individuals who are at risk, such as young children and old aged people, may get the following complications:


  • Pneumonia (inflammation of lungs)

  • Sinusitis (inflammation of the paranasal sinuses)

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

  • Myocarditis (Inflammation of the heart)

  • Myositis (inflammation of the muscles)

  • Respiratory failure

  • Kidney failure


Treatment of Influenza:


Generally, influenza resolves on its own and you might not need any medicine. It is advisable to increase your fluid intake and rest through your symptomatic period. However, if the infection is severe and becomes complicated, your doctor may prescribe you antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir, zanamivir, etc.


Prevention of influenza:


It is highly advisable to get your annual influenza vaccination, also known as flu-shot. It lowers the risk of getting infected, reduces the severity of symptoms, and prevents complications. 


Other behavioral strategies also help in preventing the spread of influenza, such as:


Frequent hand-washing: Washing hands frequently and maintaining good hygiene can help reduce the chances of catching influenza infection by clearing up the germs on your hand.


Avoiding close contact with infected people: Try to maintain a physical distance from people who have influenza or other upper respiratory tract infections. 


Avoiding crowded areas: Try to avoid exposure to crowded, poorly ventilated areas such as buses, shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants, etc to protect yourself from getting influenza as the chance of infection spread increases in such areas.

 

Disinfecting high-touch surfaces: Surfaces that are touched by many people, such as doorknobs, switchboards, etc can serve as a medium for the transfer of germs. Cleaning these surfaces with a disinfectant can control the spread of germs.


Avoiding touching your eyes and face: The germs such as the influenza virus can enter your throat and respiratory tract through the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, and nose, so it is advised not to touch your face and eyes frequently without proper hand-washing.


Wearing a mask when going to crowded places: Covering your nose with a facemask can help prevent the virus from getting into your respiratory system.


Conclusion


Influenza is an infection of the respiratory system. Though it clears up on its own, it may get complicated, and it is advisable to see your doctor if you experience difficulty in breathing, chest pain, or other severe symptoms. If you have influenza, you should maintain a distance from others and wear a mask and avoid going to crowded places to prevent the spread of the infection. With adequate prevention, influenza can be controlled.


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