What is the FLU (influenza)

  • by VaccineHealthCenter

Although many people mistake the ‘stomach flu,’ for the flu, the two are quite different. While the flu refers to a viral infection that affects the respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs), the stomach flu refers to the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, the stomach, and intestines, causing abdominal cramps, fever, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The flu is the short form for Influenza, which is a respiratory tract infection caused by Influenza A and B viruses.

Who is at risk of contracting influenza?

Like some viral infections, there is a specific target that is more predisposed to influenza infection. These include;

  • Native Americans (especially in the winter season)
  • The obese, with a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMI) surpassing 40
  • Young children with 5years and below, with those under six months being more predisposed
  • People with chronic illnesses such as liver disease, kidney disease, and diabetes
  • The old people, especially those who are 65years and above
  • Those suffering from a weakened immune system
  • People residing in long-term care facilities such as the nursing homes
  • Pregnant women, or those who have given birth in two weeks and below

How can you tell that a patient has contracted influenza?
As a doctor and a health practitioner, you must be able to tell the difference between the common cold and influenza. In the course of working, you will come across patients who mistake the flu for the common cold and the common cold for the flu. Here are the signs that denote influenza infection;

  • Pain in the muscles
  • Dry coughs that persist
  • Chills and sweats
  • Feelings of tiredness
  • General body weakness
  • A runny or stuffed-up nose
  • Difficulty in breathing, especially shortness of breath
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, especially in children and less in adults
  • Fever
  • A soring throat
  • Paining eyes

Although the signs could mislead someone into mistaking a cold for the flu, there is a clear difference. Common cold leaves you feeling worse than the flu, but the flu is mild but could be more life-threatening in rare cases. Besides, the common cold will develop gradually, with symptoms picking up slowly, while the flu comes suddenly and the signs manifest really fast.

Treatment options for influenza

As a doctor, it’s prudent for you to know the existing influenza treatment options and advise a patient accordingly on the type of medication he should take. The drug options include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab) or baloxavir (Xofluza). This may be necessary after you have diagnosed a patient, are certain that the patient has the flu, and the signs and symptoms keep becoming more severe, even threatening life. However, in most cases, a patient may just need lots of fluids and enough rest for the flu to heal. The influenza vaccine has been used to offer relative protection against the flu. Although it is not 100% effective, it stimulates substantial antibody production, and these antibodies do well to fight the Influenza virus.

Risk indicators for the flu

The flu is supposed to disappear in a day or two. Sometimes, though, it might not disappear, but instead, it may develop risk indicators. The signs that indicate risks include chest pains, ongoing seizures, increased dizziness, the worsening of the existing medical complications, and the heightening of muscle pains and body weakness. Blue lips, dehydration, and shortness of breath may call for emergency actions.

How does the flu spread?

Because the flu can be deadly, it is essential to know what causes it, and its spreading mechanism to advise patients accordingly. The causative agent is the Influenza A or B virus. When one catches the virus and secretes fluids or interacts with crowds, or people in enclosed places such as military barracks, classrooms, nursing homes, or churches, he can spread the virus to other people. Besides, the virus could be on any surface, including utensils, and when it gets into contact with the nose or mouth and other respiratory tract parts, the flu will emerge if the body is not immune enough to fight it.

How can people reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the flu?

For those who have caught the virus, care is needed to limit spread. Even for those who are still free from it, caution is essential to avoid contracting it; below are some measures to take to prevent the spread of the flu;

  • Frequent hand washing- using soap and water to wash hands for at least twenty seconds, or the use of alcohol-based sanitizers considerably reduces the spread of the flu and other infections
  • Avoid touching the face- as much as you can, keep your hands of the mouth, eyes, and nose
  • Take care of sneezes and coughs- because the virus transmits through secretions, covering the coughs and sneezes with tissue or handkerchief and disposing of the tissue/handkerchief reduces the risk of spreading the flu
  • Keep surfaces clean- the virus can be present on the commonly-touched surfaces, and so there is a need to clean them regularly
  • Avoid crowds- the Influenza virus spreads quickly in crowds, and avoiding such crowds during the flu peak season greatly minimizes the risk of contraction

This article discussed what the flu is, what causes it, how the spread occurs, signs of the flu, the difference between the flu and common cold & stomach flu, emergency symptoms for the flu, medical attention for the flu, the risk populations for the virus, and how the spread can be curtailed. You might find this information significant for your patients.