Understanding Influenza

According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 35 to 50 million people fall prey to influenza during the flu season (November to March), every year. Viral in nature, influenza is a respiratory disease that is highly contagious. In the year 1918, nearly 100 million people died in the influenza pandemic that spread across the world, including remote regions in the arctic and the pacific islands. It was the worst natural disaster the world ever saw.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Influenza:

The symptoms of influenza are very similar to those of the common cold, and therefore influenza is sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as a cold. The symptoms are:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Sour throat
  • Cough
  • Stuffed or runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea and vomiting (this occurs more often in children as opposed to adults)

Due to the symptoms’ similarity to cold and other infectious diseases, a diagnosis is to be made very carefully. Self-diagnosis is not advised, and it is essential to visit a doctor. If tested within the first 2 or 3 days, a clear diagnosis can be made. There are specific tests that used for diagnosing influenza.

It is important that the diagnosis be made on time because the flu can cause some serious complications. Bacterial pneumonia and severe dehydration are some of the complications that can occur. If you have a pre-existing medical condition like congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma extra care needs to be taken for influenza can worsen the condition alarmingly. Sinus problems and ear infections may also be developed by adults and children alike.

More often than not, people recover completely from influenza, but it is still a dangerous disease if not treated in time. Young children, older people and people with medical conditions like heart disease diabetes and asthma are at a higher risk for complications arising due to influenza and the disease can prove the be fatal to them.

How it spreads, prevention and treatment

The influenza virus is an airborne virus that spreads from the infected person when he or she coughs or sneezes. People often develop the infection up on touching something that has the virus on it, like clothing etc. and touching the unwashed hand to their mouth eyes, or nose.

Infection can spread from one healthy adult to another one day before getting the symptoms and up to five days after. So one can spread it to others before one knows they’re sick, and of course after they develop the disease.

Influenza can be prevented by getting vaccinated against it every year. Two types of vaccines are available in the United States:

  • The “Flu Shot”: this is a normal injection type vaccine that contains the inactive form of the influenza virus. It is safe for use by healthy people above six months of age, including elderly people and those who have pre existing medical conditions.
  • The nasal spray flu vaccine: this contains a weakened version of the influenza virus, and is safe for use with healthy people between the ages of 2-49, not including pregnant women.

The yearly vaccine cycle should ideally begin in September as influenza viruses are active at the earliest by October, and are at their peak during January.

Treatment of influenza is usually through prescription medicines. Since these are strong antibiotics it is highly advisable to accompany their course with a reliable multi vitamin capsule.