Tis the season to be snotty!
During the cooler months many of us succumb to a variety of ailments which we often put down to “the flu”.
However, unlike the common cold, the real flu – influenza – can be a serious illness, resulting in severe complications. It is important to understand its symptoms and possible complications.
What is influenza?
Influenza is an acute viral infection that is highly contagious. The are many strains of the influenza virus, with new ones appearing each year. However, the most common strains of influenza are type A and B, which infect upper respiratory system and lungs.
Like many illnesses, the flu is spread through infected droplets via coughing, sneezing or talking. It can also be caught from touching surfaces contaminated by infected droplets, such as phones, keyboards, door handles, etc, then touching your eyes, mouth or nose.
Once you have contracted influenza, you are infectious to others from 24 hours before symptoms start, then for a week. People with compromised immune systems and children can be infectious for longer.
Symptoms and Complications
Symptoms usually appear 1 to 3 days after becoming infected.
The symptoms of flu can include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- dry cough
- muscle and joint pain
- tiredness or extreme exhaustion
- loss of appetite
See your doctor if you are concerned, and seek urgent medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- sudden dizziness
- severe vomiting
- fever with a rash.
Unlike the common cold, the flu can also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, particularly in children.
Most symptoms abate after a week, although tiredness and a cough may last a few weeks. Conclusive diagnosis of influenza is done by nose or throat swab.
Some people are at higher risk of complications from the flu including:
- all children younger than five years of age
- pregnant women
- people aged over 65
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- people with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems
Complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, damage to heart, brain and other organs. In the worst cases, the flu can even lead to death, resulting in an estimated 3000 Australia fatalities ach year.
- Antiviral medication given with 48 hours of first symptoms can reduce severity of symptoms.These require prescription from a doctor.
- Antibiotics are ineffective against the flu as it is a virus. However, if a bacterial infection is also present your doctor may prescribe them.
- Over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers can reduce symptoms.
- Rest and plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Stay a home to avoid infecting others and practice good hygiene.
Annual immunisation is recommended for influenza for everyone six months and older. In Australia there is a National Immunisation Program which covers at risk groups eligible for the flu vaccine.
Each year The World Health Organisation consults influenza experts to develop vaccines to cover common strains for the coming flu season.
You can read more about the flu vaccine and how it is developed here.