Frequently referred to as the flu, influenza is a respiratory illness which is caused by a virus.
There are three different types of virus (A, B and C) which cause the flu and they consist of several strains. The type A virus changes fairly frequently and for this reason we don’t build up continuing immunity to the “strain du jour”.
Widespread influenza outbreaks usually occur in the winter and early spring and the virus is spread by close contact with infected persons through airborne particles from the upper airway and respiratory tract. The stomach flu is not the same as influenza.
Symptoms of influenza differ from the common cold and can consist of fever with chills, fatigue, generalized muscle and body aches, headache, cough and sore throat. The appearance of symptoms is often sudden and severe.
Prevention through immunization is key, particularly in high risk individuals or those whose immune systems are compromised and poorly equipped to fight the virus. Persons who are at high risk should also avoid those infected with the virus. Persons who are strongly advised to receive the flu vaccine include the elderly, nursing home residents, persons with heart, lung and kidney disorders and those who work in the health care profession. The vaccine varies from year to year depending on the particular strain which is prevalent. If someone receives the vaccine and still contracts the flu, the symptoms will usually be less severe. The flu vaccine is only effective for one season.
Two antiviral drugs are now available to help fight the flu. These are Tamiflu and Relenza. They can speed recovery and decrease the severity of symptoms. However they must be taken within about two days of the onset of symptoms. Otherwise treatment consists of getting lots of rest, staying hydrated and treating specific symptoms. Most importantly, antibiotics are ineffective against the influenza virus and viruses in general. In most cases symptoms abate in one to two weeks.
There are symptoms that can help you tell whether you have a cold or a flu:
IS IT A COLD OR THE FLU?