Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. Most instances of flu infection are seen during the fall and winter seasons when most people chose to stay inside. This time is known as Flu Season. Symptoms appear in the nose, throat, and lungs and last 3-5 days.
For those who do not wish to take an antiviral medicine, over the counter products are available to treat the symptoms associated with flu infection. Many flu symptoms shared with those seen in the common cold and are treated with the same products. Suffers should rest and try to limit their exposure to others during this time and stay well hydrated. Not all flu sufferers experience all symptoms. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches, may linger for several weeks after a flu infection has run its course.
Should I Get a Vaccination for Influenza?
Vaccinations are widely available for expected strains of flu during winter and fall seasons to help combat the spread of infection. The CDC recommends vaccination for nearly all individuals over the age of 6 months. Excluded from this recommendation are individuals with life-threatening allergies to components of the vaccine, and those with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Individuals who are suffering from mild illness should wait until they have recovered to obtain their vaccination. Vaccination is not 100% effective. Due to the high rate of mutation in the flu virus, vaccination for all active strains of the virus is not possible at this time. However, the benefits of vaccination should not be overlooked.
Influenza Treatment Options
For most otherwise healthy adults, influenza is unlikely to pose any life-threatening or long-term complications. Anti-viral medicine can be obtained through a visit to your doctor’s office, where they will run a simple test before treatment. The medicine prescribed can lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten the period of active symptoms by up to two days. Antiviral drugs can also lessen the chances of serious complications from flu. Those at high risk of complications such as women, children and the elderly, should consider treatment by taking prescribed antiviral medications. These products may be available as pills, ingestible liquids, inhaled powders or may be given intravenously by the doctor at their office.
The following symptoms may or may not appear and are all associated with the flu:
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Muscle aches
How Does Influenza Spread?
The flu or influenza is spread through coughing and sneezing. When you cough or sneeze, tiny droplets of water filled with the virus become dispersed into the air. While heavier droplets fall and land on nearby surfaces, smaller ones stay airborne. When these droplets encounter another host, they must gain access to the inside of their body to spread the infection. The most common method of gaining access is through the mouth, nose and eyes. This may happen through breathing in the airborne droplets or through contact with droplets on infected surfaces that are then transferred to these areas by touch.
What is the Contagious Period?
The period during which an individual can spread the virus varies, but generally, begins the day before symptoms develop and continues for up to 7 days. For those who develop complications or have weakened immune systems, the period of contagiousness may be significantly longer. This contagious period is proceeded by a period of virus growth but generally, starts only one day after the initial infection. It is important that individuals who suspect they have been infected by the virus take special precautions to prevent further spread.
What Complications are also Associated with the Flu?
Complications range from mild to deadly and include:
- Asthma attacks
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Respiratory failure
- Complications related to chronic heart disease