Influenza which is commonly called the “flu” is a viral infection of the respiratory system. It is much like the common cold but causes more severe symptoms. There are a number of strains of the flu. In the last 100 years there have been several outbreaks of the flu called pandemics which have caused a large number of deaths. Typically the flu is a minor illness with a death rate of only 0.1% but during the worst outbreak in 1918 on record the flu caused between 40 to 100 million deaths which is a rate of 2 to 20%.
While anyone can get the flu those who have the most severe cases and are at the greatest risk of death associated with the flu are the elderly and the very young. Anyone with a compromised immune system is also at risk of death and more severe symptoms associated with the flu.
Symptoms of the Flu
The flu can cause a variety of symptoms. These can range from slight to severe enough to require hospitalization. The symptoms of the flu are as follows.
- Fever: Usually between 100 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit in adults but can be much higher in children.
Respiratory symptoms such as:
- Sore Throat
- Runny and /or Stuffy Nose
- Muscle Aches
While the flu does not typically appear with stomach related symptoms in children it is common to see nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The term stomach flu is a misnomer which is actually related to gastrointestinal illness rather than the flu virus.
The flu is also commonly associated with complications such as pneumonia.
The symptoms of the flu generally last only one to two weeks but in more serious cases complications such as pneumonia can cause prolonged illness, hospitalization and even death.
Causes of the Flu
There are three types of the flu, type A, B and C. Type C is the least invasive. It is generally only responsible for minor illnesses, which can possibly even show no symptoms or only mild symptoms of the flu. Type A and B are more risky. They are the types that are responsible for the flu season each year and epidemic or pandemics. These types are what the flu shots are designed to fight. The flu is a virus which has the ability to change. The RNA of the virus is constantly changing to stay alive. As a person has a flu virus they develop antibodies to the virus and the virus then changes to live another day. Each year a person can still be infected by a flu virus because of this change. The antibodies from the previous virus may have some strength against the newer strain causing less severe symptoms. This is also the design for the vaccine. The vaccine is not intended to prevent you from getting the flu but rather makes the symptoms less severe even to the point that you may not notice you have the virus.
Alternative Treatments for the Flu
While there is no cure for the flu there are products available that can help relieve the symptoms of the flu. Products like Theraflu and other medications work to only help relieve the symptoms of the flu. In children it is only suggested to give them Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to reduce fever and muscle ache. Aspirin should never been used due to the risk of developing Reyes Syndrome.
There are several alternative treatments for the flu but these are to treat the symptoms not the flu virus. You should increase fluids while you have the flu. Chicken soup or other hot beverages and foods can be very soothing to a sore throat or to just make you feel a little better. There are several alternative treatments to reduce fever such as cool compresses and even cool baths.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
While for most people medical attention is not needed for the flu, some people may need to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms present. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems should seek immediate medical attention for the flu.
It is suggested that those who are at high risk receive a flu vaccination each year. The CDC suggests anyone over the age of 65 and those with immune system disorders receive the flu shot. They also suggest that infants from 6 months of age to 5 years old receive vaccinations for the flu.
There are also antiviral medications that can be taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. One of the most popular antiviral drugs is called Tamiflu. These can help reduce the symptoms and make the flu less bothersome.