Influenza, commonly known as the "flu" is a serious infection of the respiratory tract caused by the influenza virus. Though, most of the symptoms of influenza are similar to that of the common cold, the influenza infection often causes a more severe illness. If not treated in time, the symptoms of influenza may turn serious and may even prove to be fatal. Influenza is a contagious disease that is caused by a virus in your body. The flu virus can spread from an infected person to a healthy person through cough, sneezing or by touching the objects contaminated with tiny droplets from coughing or sneezing. Most influenza outbreaks happen in late fall and winter; people are easily affected because of weakened immune system during this period. Elderly people who are 65 years and older, young children and people with lung or heart diseases, certain chronic health problems or weakened immune systems are at greater risk of developing complications. If you suspect influenza, you should immediately contact your doctor.
Symptoms of influenza
The symptoms of influenza are similar to that of the common cold. Many times therefore, flu remains undiagnosed for several days. However, flu requires special attention as it may prove to be life threatening if not treated in time. Some of the commonly reported symptoms of influenza include:
- Fever of 100°F (37.8°C) to 104°F (40°C)
- Sore throat
- Body aches and muscle pain, commonly in the back, arms or legs
- Severe headache
- Dry cough
- A runny or stuffed nose
- Fatigue, a general feeling of sickness (malaise)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting (particularly in children)
The symptoms of influenza can begin within 1 to 4 days (2 days on an average) of being first exposed to the virus. The effects of influenza usually subside after 2 or 3 days however, fever may last up to 5 days while cough may persist for 10 days or longer. A general feeling of weakness may also last for several days or weeks.
Home treatments are the best way to influenza treatment. Some of the most recommended home treatments include :
- Take as much rest and sleep as possible. Sleeping and resting helps your body’s natural immune system to fight the influenza virus
- Take lots of fluids to replace those lost from fever and to keep your body hydrated
- Avoid smoking and breathing other people’s smoke as tobacco products affect your body’s ability to recover
- Do not consume alcohol or alcoholic beverages
- Keep yourself away from other people as much as possible. This is because influenza is an infectious airborne disease that can be spread through droplets of saliva or sweat
- Inform you doctor as soon as the symptoms of influenza are noticed
- Your doctor may suggest the use of antiviral medicines like Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Tamiflu works effectively against both the influenza A and B viruses. The medicine prevents the spread of the virus and thereby helps to reduce the intensity and duration of influenza symptoms. For best results, Tamiflu treatment should be started within 2 days of the onset of influenza symptoms. You can also take Tamiflu to prevent influenza from occurring in case you have been exposed to the virus. As Tamiflu is a prescription drug, it should be taken only after consulting a doctor.
By John Linney
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