What is the flu? and ten things to know about it

The flu is a trivial disease, we all seem to know its symptoms and to a certain point, how to treat it. However, what happens when there are severe complications from this disease or even the risk of death? Don’t let this virus become a grave illness during the winter months. Discover relevant information about this virus, its symptoms, the Influenza vaccine and much more.

what is the flu?

First of all, it’s important to understand what is the flu?

The flu, formally known as Influenza, is a common viral infection and respiratory illness that attacks the upper and/or lower respiratory tracts. This illness is caused by the Influenza virus (Influenza A virus, Influenza B virus or Influenza C virus). It is usually very contagious and normally appears suddenly.  Common flu symptoms are cough, sore throat, a stuffy nose, body aches, fatigue and headaches. Influenza is often considered a seasonal disease, and therefore, people talk about the flu season every year. However, this disease can spread rapidly during any time of the year, through contact and interaction with affected individuals.

Most people can recover from the flu quickly and without major complications, achieving a full recovery in one or two weeks. Nevertheless, this disease should not be taken lightly, as it can be dangerous for kids and the elderly. Therefore, some flu complications can be deadly within these age groups if not treated properly. In the following article, we will share with you ten important facts about the flu.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Although caused by different viruses, Influenza and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. Thus, it’s quite difficult to tell the difference between the cold and Influenza. The following comparison portrays the main differences between the two:

The Flu Common Cold
Severity: More severe with possibility of serious health complications Less severe
Symptoms: Symptoms are more intense Symptoms are less intense
Complications: Pneumonia, bacterial infections, hospitalization Complications are less severe
Runny nose: Only sometimes Most of the time
Headache: Headaches are Common Headaches are rare
Chills: Chills are common Chills are uncommon
Fever: Fever is common Fever is rare in adults
Symptoms appear: Fast, in a couple of hours Slowly, over several days
Cough: Dry cough Cough with green/yellow phlegm

When is the flu season?

Influenza season is normally considered to start in October and end in May. Although this disease is more common during the cold winter months, it’s also possible to get it during spring and autumn. During these periods of changing weather, it can take longer than two weeks to recover from this illness. Influenza activity usually peaks during the months of December, January and February.

The flu activity in the U.S.

Number of Confirmed Influenza Hospitalizations, 2010-2017

The flu statistics

Is the flu contagious? And when is it contagious?

Influenza is highly contagious, even before its symptoms become noticeable. This illness is highly contagious partly because an affected individual can spread this virus even before feeling sick. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this virus can spread and be contagious even one day before symptoms appear, and it is most contagious during the first three or four days after a person becomes sick. Thus, to avoid getting this disease, it’s important to avoid close contact with a person who has it.

How does the Influenza virus spread?

The Influenza Virus spreads person to person, mainly by droplets that are produced by people who have this disease, when they sneeze, cough or talk. The droplets that carry this virus can travel up to six feet, landing in people who are nearby, most commonly in their nose and mouth.

what is the flu?

What are the signs of flu? What are early Influenza symptoms?

Influenza symptoms can occur rapidly and without previous notice. Therefore, it is common to be feeling well one day, and to feel awful the next day due to this virus. In some cases, the flu early symptoms become noticeable as early as the day after being in contact with the virus. In other cases, people infected do not have symptoms until three or four days later. Early Influenza symptoms and signs are usually the following: running a fever, having a sore throat, feeling chills, having a dry cough, body aches and a runny nose.

What about the flu shot? Is the flu shot effective? Does the flu shot have side effects?

The Influenza vaccine is highly effective, although it can take up to two weeks to start providing the needed protection against this illness. Therefore, getting the this vaccine is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from the influenza virus. In order to get the best protection, it is extremely important to get this vaccine before the flu season starts.

But why is it effective? This shot is effective because it helps our body to develop special antibodies that protect it from this virus. However, we should note that this vaccine does not have an immediate protective effect, as it can take up to two weeks for it to be effective. In addition, we should not expose ourselves to a person infected with the virus during the two weeks after getting this shot, as we can acquire the illness during this time. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the best time to get the Influenza vaccine is in October. Although it is considered safe, and less than 5% of the people who get it will experience mild side effects, it’s important to consider them. The flu shot’s side effects are normally mild and will disappear on their own after one or two days. Some common mild side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Swelling and soreness from the shot
  • Mild nausea

Is it necessary to get the Influenza vaccine every year?

Yes, you do need to get this vaccine every year.
Remember that this season’s common virus, could not be the most common influenza virus next season. This is because, as with any virus, the influenza virus evolves and changes every year. Thus, it’s necessary to get your vaccine every year.

Can I get the flu from getting this vaccine?

A common misconception about this shot, is that you can get the ill from it. The truth is that this vaccine contains low levels of the debilitated Influenza virus, therefore, it cannot cause a real flu infection. On the contrary, this vaccine fosters the growth of antibodies that protect your body from this disease. With that said, it is true that some people experience mild symptoms and discomfort after getting this vaccine. Common symptoms after getting the flu shot include fever and body aches. However, this mild discomfort disappears after one or two days.

Can the Influenza virus cause severe complications?

If not treated in a timely and proper manner, it can cause severe complications and risk of death.
The Influenza vaccine is especially helpful in avoiding the risk of having grave complications. Complications from this disease are most common among people who are 65 and older, kids, pregnant women and people with a weak immune system. However, anyone can develop severe complications if this illness is not treated correctly.

Influenza can lead to secondary infections, such as ear infections and sinus infections. When left untreated or when treated lately, these infections can lead to grave affections such as pneumonia and sepsis, which can severely damage our body. This disease can also reactivate chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart failure.

What are the different types of influenza virus?

There are three types of influenza virus: A, B and C. Type A Influenza virus includes three subtypes: H1N1, H2N2 and H3N3. Type A and Type B viruses have been the cause of grave seasonal epidemics, which have become widespread usually during winter months. On the other hand, Type C Influenza virus only causes mild respiratory infections that tend to be less contagious and not as large.

An important note about H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu:

Influenza H1N1 is not the same as the common flu. The H1N1 viral infection was discovered by a group of scientists in 2009. H1N1 Isn’t actually a single virus, but a combination of human, pig and bird viruses. The epidemic caused by the H1N1 virus in 2009 was so severe and affected so many individuals around the world, that the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic. The Influenza vaccine is the most effective method to protect ourselves from the H1N1 virus.

Remember, the best way to defeat an enemy is to know your enemy. Talk to your doctor about Influenza, schedule a consultation with your family physician at the first signs of having likely symptoms and never auto medicate. And remember, the more you know about the Influenza virus, the easier it will be to protect yourself.

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