June 24, 2024
Influenza

Overview

What is the flu (influenza)?

The flu, also known as influenza, is a respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It is caused by a viral infection. Although commonly referred to as the flu, influenza is distinct from the stomach “flu” viruses that result in symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.

However, on occasion, influenza and its associated complications have the potential to be fatal. Certain demographics are more susceptible to experiencing severe flu-related issues, such as:

1. Children who are under the age of 12 months, particularly young ones.
2. Individuals who are expecting to conceive, are currently pregnant, or have recently delivered a baby in the midst of flu season.
3. Adults older than age 65.
4. Individuals residing or employed in establishments housing numerous occupants, such as nursing homes, military barracks, and hospital patients, are prime examples.

In the United States, certain demographics are at an increased risk of requiring hospital treatment for the flu, such as individuals of American Indian or Alaska Native descent, as well as Black or Latino individuals.

Individuals with a heightened susceptibility to flu-related complications encompass those who have:

1. Weakened immune systems.
2. A body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher.
3. Conditions affecting the nervous system that alter the brain’s information processing capabilities.

Individuals afflicted with specific medical conditions are more susceptible to experiencing complications associated with influenza, including:

1. Individuals suffering from long-term medical conditions, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, hepatic disease, and diabetes..
2. People who have had strokes.
3. Individuals under the age of 20 who are undergoing prolonged aspirin treatment..

Despite not being 100% effective, the annual influenza vaccine significantly reduces the likelihood of experiencing severe complications caused by the flu. This is particularly applicable to individuals who are at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications.

Symptoms of Influenza (flu)

Initially, the flu may appear to be a common cold characterized by symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. Colds typically have a gradual onset. However, the flu tends to manifest rapidly. Although a cold can be unpleasant, the symptoms of the flu are generally more severe.

Typical signs of influenza frequently involve a high body temperature, along with muscle pain, shivering, and perspiration.

Other symptoms include:

1. Headache.
2. Eye pain.
3. Sore throat.
4. Shortness of breath.
5. Tiredness and weakness.
6. Runny or stuffy nose.
7. Dry, persistent cough.

Vomiting and diarrhea are also indicative of flu symptoms, although they tend to occur more frequently in children rather than adults.

When to see a doctor

The majority of individuals who contract the flu can manage their symptoms independently within the comfort of their own homes, typically without requiring the assistance of a healthcare professional.

If you are experiencing flu symptoms and are vulnerable to complications, it is advisable to promptly consult with your healthcare provider. Administering antiviral medication for flu treatment could potentially reduce the duration of your sickness and mitigate the risk of developing severe issues.

In case emergency flu symptoms arise, seek immediate medical attention. Emergency symptoms for adults may encompass:

1. Chest pain.
2. Ongoing dizziness.
3. Seizures.
4. Difficulty breathing or dyspnea.
5. Worsening of current medical conditions..
6. Intense muscle fatigue or soreness.

In addition to the symptoms observed in adults, emergency symptoms in children encompass:

1. Dehydration.
2. Whether gray or blue, lips or nail beds..

Causes of flu (influenza)

Influenza is a result of viral infection. These viruses are transmitted through the air in droplets when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or speaks. The droplets can be directly inhaled or one can acquire the germs by touching a surface, like a computer keyboard, and subsequently touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Individuals infected with the virus can potentially transmit it to others starting from approximately 24 hours prior to the onset of symptoms and continuing for a duration of approximately 5 to 7 days after symptoms manifest. It is worth noting that children and individuals with compromised immune systems may remain contagious for a slightly extended period of time.

Influenza viruses undergo continuous changes, frequently giving rise to new strains. If you have previously contracted influenza, your immune system has already produced antibodies to combat that particular strain of the virus.

If upcoming strains of the flu resemble ones you have encountered in the past, whether through prior infection or vaccination, these antibodies could potentially provide protection against the virus or reduce the severity of symptoms.

Antibody levels have the potential to decrease as time passes. Furthermore, antibodies developed against previous strains of influenza may not offer protection against new strains. These new strains can vary significantly from those encountered in the past.

Risk factors

Several factors can increase your susceptibility to contracting the flu or experiencing its complications. its complications include:

1. Age: Seasonal flu often leads to more severe outcomes in young children, particularly those under 12 months old. Similarly, adults over the age of 65 also tend to experience more severe consequences.
2. Living or working conditions: Individuals residing or employed in establishments accommodating numerous occupants, such as nursing homes, have an increased susceptibility to contracting the flu. Similarly, individuals undergoing hospital stays are also at a heightened risk.
3. Weakened immune system: Individuals residing or employed in establishments accommodating numerous occupants, such as nursing homes, have an increased susceptibility to contracting the flu. Similarly, individuals undergoing hospital stays are also at a heightened risk.
4. Chronic illnesses: Chronic ailments can heighten the likelihood of experiencing complications from influenza. Instances of such conditions encompass asthma and other respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, prior stroke occurrences, metabolic disorders, airway issues, as well as kidney, liver, or blood ailments.
5. Race or ethnicity: Individuals of American Indian or Alaska Native, Black, or Latino descent in the United States may face an increased susceptibility to complications related to influenza.
6. Pregnancy: Pregnant individuals have a higher likelihood of experiencing complications from influenza, especially during the second and third trimesters. This risk persists for up to two weeks following the birth of the baby.
7. Obesity: Individuals who possess a body mass index (BMI) exceeding 40 are at a heightened susceptibility to experiencing complications related to influenza:

Complications

The flu is typically not a serious concern for individuals who are young and in good health. While it may cause discomfort during the illness, the flu generally resolves within one to two weeks without any long-term consequences. However, individuals who are at high risk, such as children and adults, may experience complications that can arise from the flu:

1. Pneumonia.
2. Bronchitis.
3. Asthma flare-ups.
4. Ear infections.
5. Heart problems.
6. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a severe condition characterized by respiratory failure.

Pneumonia is a highly critical complication, posing a significant threat to older individuals and those with chronic ailments. In such cases, pneumonia has the potential to be fatal.

Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States advises that individuals aged 6 months and older should receive a flu shot every year. Getting vaccinated against the flu can reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus, decrease the chances of developing severe illness or requiring hospitalization due to the flu, and minimize the risk of death from the flu.

Getting vaccinated against the flu is of utmost significance due to the fact that both the flu and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) exhibit comparable symptoms. It is plausible that both COVID-19 and the flu could be circulating simultaneously. Opting for vaccination is the most effective method to safeguard oneself against both illnesses.

The seasonal flu vaccines for this year have been formulated to safeguard against the four influenza viruses anticipated to circulate most frequently during the upcoming flu season. Both injection and nasal spray options will be available for vaccination this year, with high-dose vaccines specifically designed for individuals aged 65 and above.

The nasal spray has been authorized for individuals aged 2 to 49 years. However, it is not advised for certain groups, including:

1. Pregnant people.
2. Individuals who experienced a serious allergic response to a flu shot previously..
3. Children under the age of 17 who are consuming aspirin or a medication containing salicylate.
4. Individuals with compromised immune systems and individuals who provide care or have close contact with those with compromised immune systems.
5. Children aged 2 to 4 years who have been diagnosed with asthma or wheezing within the last 12 months.
6. Individuals who have recently been prescribed antiviral medication for influenza.
7. Individuals who have a cerebrospinal fluid leakage or are at risk of experiencing such a leakage, such as those with a cochlear implant..

Furthermore, it is advisable to steer clear of individuals who are unwell. In the event that you are unwell yourself, it is crucial to remain at home for a minimum of 24 hours after your fever has subsided. By doing so, you will significantly reduce the risk of spreading any potential infections to others.

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