Influenza (flu) is an infection of the respiratory system which is triggered by the influenza virus. Flu outbreaks happen every year but they are quite prevalent between November and April. Since this virus changes from year to year, it’s impossible to have immunity against it for a long period of time. That explains why people don’t get the flu more than once, hence the term “seasonal flu” to refer to influenza viruses that spread from year to year.
The flu virus undergoes major changes from time to time so no one is immune from it. During such times, a lot of people around the world, regardless of their age, get affected within a few months. This is referred to as an epidemic. There have been epidemics in 1889, 1918, 1957 and 1968, and 2009 (H1N1).
Is It Cold or Flu?
When either cold or flu is starting, it begins as an upper respiratory infection. This is according to Henry H. Bernstein. He is a DO, professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., and member of the Committee for Infectious Diseases, American Academy of Pediatrics.
Cold and flu have some similar symptoms. This includes a stuffed nose, coughing, lethargy, headache and muscle pain. With a cold, you will experience the following symptoms; a runny nose, the body temperature of up to 102 degrees, sneezing and sore throat. When it comes to flu, your body temperature will rise to 102 degrees. You will also experience chills, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite and sweating.
According to Bernstein, you can get vaccinated every year, so as to prevent flu but there is no vaccine against the common cold.
Is Flu Contagious?
Flu is highly infectious. This is to the extent that you might even begin transmitting it to other people a day before you get any signs and symptoms.
You can transmit the disease to other people five to eight days after you have experienced the first symptoms. Kids can be infectious for more than seven days after they experience the first symptoms. If your immunity is low, you will experience the symptoms for a longer period of time.
The best way to prevent the flu from spreading to other people is to limit your movements by staying at home. Once you have been diagnosed with the illness, let everyone that you came into contact with the day before your first signs appeared know.
Types of Flu Virus
There are four kinds of flu viruses: A, B, C, and D.
Influenza A and B are responsible for causing seasonal infections that happen every year.
A lot of different species can get influenza A. This includes human beings, pigs, and birds. Consequently, there are different kinds of influenza A due to the variety of hosts. They have the capacity to cause an epidemic, particularly when a different strain of the virus that is different from the one circulating emerges.
Influenza B and C only affect human beings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza D only affects cattle. It is not known to affect human beings.
There is no medication that can cure a cold or flu. However, there are some medications that can help to alleviate the symptoms experienced, especially in young kids. You can give kids acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help deal with the fever, headache, muscle pain, and sore throat experienced. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when using the medicine.
Bernstein states that care should be taken when using cold and cough medications. This is due to the serious side effects that they can have, especially when they have not been properly used. For instance, while decongestants can help to dry up the secretions, if not taken as required, they are a cardiac stimulant and can even result in death, if not properly handled. Other severe side effects include fast heart rate, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Avoid giving cold and cough medications to children under the age of 6.
Generally, antibiotics are not given when one is suffering from cold and flu since antibiotics cannot cure the virus. However, according to Bernstein, in case there’s a risk of bacterial infection, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics.
Do not give children aspirin or any medicine that contains aspirin, even those that have salicylic acid or salicylate. When children are given aspirin, it can result in Reye’s syndrome, which is a fatal disease that can affect the brain, liver, and blood.
When is Flu Season?
Flu seasons refer to the time when flu is quite prevalent among many people. Typically, the rate of infection starts going up in October and is at its highest during winter months-December, January or February.
This seasonality could be as a result of the cold, dry climate in winter. This causes the virus to be more stable. Research done on a guinea pig model backs up the claim that the flu virus in animals is usually spread more effectively at low humidity and low temperature.
Another cause of flu spreading more during winter is because people tend to spend more time indoors. This results in people being enclosed for long periods of time with people who are already infected. In addition, due to the low levels of vitamin D, as a result of reduced exposure to the sun, it can result in individuals being more susceptible to this disease.
How Long Does the Flu Last?
You can recover from flu within one week. However, it will take a few more days before you can feel like your normal self again. You might also feel fatigued several days after your symptoms have gone away.
It is essential that you stay home instead of going to work or school until your fever has subsided for at least two days, without you having taken any medication to keep your body temperature low. When you have flu, you are highly infectious a day before you see the first symptoms and five to seven days after the first signs of infection.
Knowing the first symptoms of flu can help you to treat the disease early and prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
Early signs of infection include:
- Body chills
- A sore throat
- High body temperature
- Upset stomach
There are symptoms of flu that are only specific to kids.
Here is more information about symptoms and how to best handle them.
Sudden or extreme exhaustion. Having shorter days and reduced sunlight hours can result in lethargy. However, being lethargic and being very exhausted are two different things.
Feeling suddenly exhausted could be one of the earliest indications that you have a cold or flu. This is one of the earliest signs that you might experience even before you see other symptoms. You might also feel exhausted when you get the common cold, but the feeling is more severe with flu than with common cold.
Having low energy levels and being lethargic can make it challenging for you to carry out your normal day to day tasks. That is why you should cut down on your usual activities and rest as much as possible. Take a couple of days off work or school and rest in bed. Resting will help to strengthen your immune system and help you fend off the virus.
Body pain and chills. Body pains and chills are signs that you have flu.You might mistakenly think that the body pains that you are getting are as a result of exercising and not realize that you are getting the flu. You might experience body aches in the head, back, and legs.
You might experience body chills even before your body temperature spikes. The chills are usually accompanied by body pains.
Taking over the counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help you deal with the body pain. In addition, wrap yourself up in a warm blanket, so as to prevent the chills and increase your body temperature.
A cough. A cough that does not go away could be a sign that you have flu. The coughing can result in wheezing and tightness in the chest. Even though it is quite rare in the initial stages of flu, you could end up coughing up phlegm or mucus.
In case you suffer from respiratory problems, such as asthma and emphysema, it is best that you see a doctor. This will prevent you from developing further complications. In addition, if you observe that the flu is colored, it is best that you consult a doctor. Some of the complications that you can get from flu include pneumonia and bronchitis.
Taking cough medicine or cough drops can help to calm down a cough. Also, drink lots of water and teas that do not have caffeine. Cover up your mouth when coughing. This will prevent you from spreading the disease.
A sore throat. Coughing that is a result of flu can result in you having a sore throat. In some cases, some viruses can result in you getting a sore throat even if you are not coughing.
During the initial stages of the flu, your throat might feel itchy and irritated. You might also get a strange feeling in your throat whenever you are swallowing food or fluids. In case you get a sore throat, it will worsen as the virus progresses.
Drink lots of tea that does not have caffeine. In addition, drink lots of chicken soup and water. You can also mix one teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of baking soda and eight ounces of warm water and drink up.
High body temperature. A high body temperature is a sign that your body is fighting off an infection. When you get a fever when you have flu, it will be in the range of 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher.
Even though lots of people get a fever when they have the flu, not everyone will get a fever. You will also get chills, whether you have a fever or not as the flu progresses.
You can use Acetaminophen and ibuprofen to help you reduce the fever. However, note that these diseases cannot cure the virus.
Gastrointestinal issues. Other flu symptoms will go beyond the head, neck, and chest. Some strains of the virus will affect the lower parts of your stomach, such as causing stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
You might get dehydrated as a result of vomiting and diarrhea. To avoid this problem, drink lots of sports drinks, fruit juices, sodas and teas that are free from caffeine.
Symptoms of Flu in Children
In addition to the normal symptoms that children might experience when they have a cold and flu, they might get other symptoms as well.
- Not being able to drink up lots of fluids
- Not producing any tears when crying
- Not wanting to wake up or socialize
- Failure to eat
- Fever might result in a rash
- Having trouble peeing
It’s hard to distinguish flu from cold in kids. When it comes to cold and flu, your kid can start coughing; have a painful throat and pains all over the body. The symptoms are much worse if it’s flu. In case the child does not have a fever, this could be a sign that they are having a cold.
In case you have any worries about any of these symptoms displayed by your youngster, be sure to call a pediatrician.
Since flu is a progressive disease, it means that the signs will get worse before they start getting better. Since everyone responds differently to cold and flu, the symptoms that you experience will largely be determined by your current state of health. You might experience mild or extreme symptoms.
When you notice any of the signs below, it is time to seek medical care:
- Pain in the chest
- Problems with breathing
- Skin and lips turning blue
- Extreme dehydration
- Feeling light headed and confused
- Fever that is reoccurring
- A cough that’s getting worse
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should not go back to work until your body temperature has gone back to normal for at least 24 hours without you taking any medication. Give yourself enough time to rest and recover.
It is best that you go back to work or school once you stop feeling so tired all the time. Wait until most of your symptoms have improved.
The time it takes for you to heal completely is not fixed. Even after feeling better, you might experience coughing and exhaustion for a couple of more weeks. If you notice that the flu has reoccurred after you had already recovered from the bout you had or you notice that things are getting worse, it is best that you consult a doctor.
It’s important that you take the necessary measures to protect yourself from getting infected during the flu season.
This virus is primarily spread through saliva droplets that get propelled into the air when an infected person coughs or when they sneeze.
The saliva droplets can get projected up to six feet away from the infected person. They can be projected onto other people or on surfaces. When you breathe in this air or when you touch surfaces where the droplets have landed, you will be at risk of getting an infection.
You can take measures to prevent yourself from catching this virus.
Get a flu shot at least once a year. Anyone who is six months old and above can get this shot. This includes pregnant women.
Other measures to put in place include:
- Do not get in contact with someone who is infected
- Rest at home when you are infected, particularly if you have a fever.
- Cover your mouth whenever you are coughing to minimize spreading the disease
- Clean your hands
- Avoid touching your mouth and nose
What could cause flu-like symptoms during summer?
There are various illnesses that have similar symptoms as flu.
Common cold. The common cold is a respiratory disease that is caused by multiple viruses. The flu and common cold have lots of similar symptoms. This includes having a runny nose, nose congestion, sneezing, painful throat, and coughing.
Nevertheless, the main difference lies in the fact that symptoms of the common cold are not as extreme as those experienced when you have flu. Other differences exist between the common cold and flu.
Stomach flu. Another name for gastroenteritis is stomach flu. Nevertheless, it does not have anything to do with influenza. There are a number of viruses that cause it. This includes Rotavirus or norovirus.
Similar symptoms between gastroenteritis and flu include stomachache, fever, headache, body pains.
The biggest disparity between gastroenteritis and flu is that the symptoms experienced with gastroenteritis center around the stomach, this includes loose, watery stool and abdominal pains.
Pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that affects your lungs. It can come up as a result of complications experienced when you have flu. There are other factors as well that contribute to you getting pneumonia. These include chemical and environmental elements, viruses and bacteria.
Some of the initial symptoms that you get might be similar to those experienced when you have a cold or flu. This includes fever, chills, and headache.
Other signs that might specifically show that what you have is pneumonia include coughing with yellow or green mucus, sharp pains in the chest and shortness of breath.
Bronchitis. Bronchitis is when the bronchial tubes in your lungs get irritated. Bronchitis can be a complication of the flu virus. But it can also come about as a result of other elements as well, like cigarette smoke and environmental factors.
Some similar symptoms between flu and bronchitis include coughing, feeling ill, fatigued, chills and fever.
Signs to be on the lookout for are similar to those of pneumonia. It includes discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and cough with mucus.
Food poisoning. You are at risk of getting food poisoning when you eat foods that are laced with bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
The symptoms of this disease will mainly be experienced around the gastrointestinal area. This includes vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
You will get the symptoms of this disease shortly after you have just consumed poisoned food. In some cases, you might experience symptoms much later on after days or weeks have passed.
Lyme disease. You can get Lyme disease when a tick bites you. This is a bacterial disease that can cause serious complications if it is not treated in time.
Initial signs of this disease are similar to those of cold and flu. This includes fever, chills, body pain, and weariness.
In most instances, the affected person will have a bull’s eye rash in the affected person. However, not everyone experiences this.
This disease can easily be confused with summer flu. In case you experience flu-like symptoms and you have been in an area where there are lots of ticks or in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, you need to see a medical doctor.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice any flu-like symptoms like the ones below, see a doctor:
- Fever that is over 103 degrees Fahrenheit
- Coughing with yellow, green or brown mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Sharp pains in the chest, especially when you are breathing in
- Feeling faint and giddy or even fainting
- Continued vomiting
- Flu symptoms that start to improve and then get worse
- Flu-like symptoms in addition to other serious diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease
You can get this virus at any time of the year. However, it is quite prevalent during cold months. In case you get flu-like signs during summer months, chances are that you might not be suffering from cold and flu.
To minimize chances of you getting the virus during summer months, observe good health habits. For instance, wash your hands on a regular basis, cover your mouth whenever you are coughing and sneezing and stay away from any infected people.
In case you have flu-like symptoms that you are worried about, then it is best that you consult a doctor.
Flu Shot Facts
Influenza is a severe disease that can lead to so many illnesses every year. It is not only small kids or those with weak immunity who can get seriously affected by this illness. Even healthy people can get this disease and spread it to people they are close with.
There are cases where flu can be fatal. This is mostly among individuals who are over 65 years old and small kids and young adults.
In order to prevent yourself from getting the disease, it is essential that you get vaccinated. The vaccine is injected into your body. If a lot of people get the flu vaccine, then it means that the disease won’t be widely spread. When you get vaccinated, in case you get sick, you will recover much more quickly and experience less severe symptoms.
How Does It Work?
Scientists make the vaccine from virus strains that are likely to be widely spread during that flu season, based on research. Then millions of these vaccines are manufactured and then distributed.
Once the vaccine is injected into your body, your body starts producing antibodies that will protect you against the virus. In case you come into contact with a flu virus, later on, then there are low chances of you getting infected.
However, in case you get into contact with a different strain of the virus that differs from the one you got vaccinated against, chances are that you might get sick. But your symptoms will not be quite severe since you were vaccinated.
Who Should Get the Flu Shot?
Anyone who is over 6 months old should get vaccinated. This is especially high-risk populations, such as:
- Adults over 65 years of age
- Pregnant women
- Kids under 5 years old
- Individuals whose immunity has been weakened as a result of chronic disease
Flu Shot Side Effects
A lot of people do not want to get the flu vaccine because they think that it will cause them to get sick. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vaccine has a deadly flu virus, so it cannot make you sick as the virus is not that strong.
Nevertheless, you might experience some side effects of the flu shot. The side effects are not as severe as the actual illness.
Some side effects that you might experience include:
- Pain in the injected area
- Low-grade fever a couple of days after you get the injection
- Mild pain and stiffness
A lot of people will not get side effects. For those who do, the effects might only last for a day or two.
Some people might react severely to the vaccine. If you have heard sever reaction with any vaccine before, let your doctor know.
Remedies for Flu Symptoms
Here are some things you can do to alleviate the symptoms of cold and flu:
- Pain relievers. Use painkillers to deal with headaches, body aches, and fever.
- Decongestants. Use this to get relief from nasal congestion and take pressure off your ears and sinuses. Just be sure to read what the expected side effects are.
- Expectorants. Use this to loosen thick mucus that might leave your head feeling clogged and cause coughing.
- Cough suppressants. You can get relief from coughing by using some cough medicines. However, you can opt to use honey and lemon to soothe your throat and reduce coughing.
Just take care not to mix up different kinds of medicines to minimize side effects experience. Take medication for the most predominant symptom. Also, be sure to get plenty of rest until your fever goes away.
What’s the Incubation Period?
The flu virus is incubated for one to four days. The incubation periods is when the virus is in your body developing. At this stage, there will be no outward signs that you have the virus, but you are highly contagious.
The millions of saliva droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks can enter another person through the mouth, nose or eyes. You can also pick up the virus by touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.
What’s the 24-Hour Flu?
The 24-hour flu is not influenza. Rather, it is norovirus. Signs that you have a norovirus infection include:
- Abdominal pains
This virus is known as the stomach flu since it affects the gastrointestinal area. It can last for up to three days.
Natural Flu Remedies
If you are suffering from the flu, you will feel better after one week even without any medical intervention. There are several things you can do to make your symptoms much more manageable.
You can get some viral prescriptions that will make your symptoms less severe or even shorten the duration of the illness. You can also use some OTC medications to manage the symptoms of the disease. You can also use some home remedies to help you manage the symptoms.
A lot of people might respond well to home-made remedies. Some of the remedies that are backed by scientific research include:
- This is a marvelous remedy for flu. Drink it warm. It will help to soothe a sore throat and also hydrate you and provide electrolytes. It can also help to reduce inflammation by changing the movement of white blood cells in the body.
- Honey is a natural cough suppressant. That is why a lot of cough medicines have honey. Take a spoonful or add some to your tea to stop a coughing bout.
- Add a few slices of ginger to your tea or warm water and drink up. It is also quite great at dealing with nausea.
- Increase the good bacteria in your gut to help your body fight infection. Boost your immune system with a healthy gut microbiome and prevent new infections and get faster better.
It’s important that you get plenty of rest, to make it easier for your body to fight off the infection. Rest as much as possible and get lots of sleep.