Influenza

What causes it?

Influenza (also known as the flu) is a common illness most prevalent in the winter months. It is a virus, passed on from person to person through contact.

One of the main symptoms of the condition is sneezing, which releases tiny droplets of infected saliva into the air and onto surfaces. These droplets can survive for up to 24 hours, the NHS states, and can be absorbed by another individual either by touching the infected surface or breathing in the air.

Those with a weakened immune system are typically more likely to get influenza, although everyone is at risk.

What are the symptoms?

Flu is usually quite easy to recognise due to its characteristic symptoms. Net Doctor provides a summary:

  • Headache.
  • Fever (38o to 40oC).
  • Aching muscles and joints.
  • Chest pains.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • A runny nose and sore throat.
  • Dry cough.
  • Restless sleep.
  • Chills and shivering.
  • Indigestion
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

The symptoms typically peak after two to three days and begin to wear off after five to eight. However, general tiredness and a persistent cough often remain for up to another two to three weeks, according to the NHS.

When should I see my doctor?

Most people who become ill with influenza get better on their own and do not need to see a doctor. However, professional advice should be sought when:

  • Symptoms have lasted for longer than one week
  • Symptoms have become much worse or the patient has developed other symptoms, uncommon to the flu, such as a rash
  • The patient is elderly or has an existing condition which might make recovery more difficult (such as cancer or HIV)

How is it treated?

Influenza is usually treated at home and with the help of over-the-counter medication.

Having a fever causes the body to lose a lot of liquid, so it is very important that anyone who contracts influenza drinks plenty of fluids. Because of this, it is best to avoid alcohol. Getting plenty of rest, preferably sleep, is also vital, as it gives the body a chance to regenerate.

Cough symptoms can be eased with the help of cough remedies available from any pharmacy and painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin can be used to combat aches and pains.

Anti-viral medication is advisable for those whose immune systems may be weaker, such as elderly people, small children and those who have an ongoing serious condition. These drugs do not cure influenza, but diminish the duration of the symptoms and their severity as well as reducing the risk of potential complications.

Vaccination for influenza is also available. Seek the advice of your doctor if you think you fall into the high-risk category.

How can I prevent getting ill?

The flu is easily spread and, especially in the winter, it is often difficult to avoid situations where you come within close proximity of other people. However, simple hygiene can go a long way in helping to stop the disease from spreading, such as:

  • Always sneezing into a tissue, disposing of it and washing your hands
  • Wiping down surfaces with disinfectant
  • Washing your hands regularly

Images: Wikimedia Commons, USACE on Flikr

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