- Posted January 1, 2014 by
South River, New Jersey
What You Should Know About the Flu
By: Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP; Mary Girgis
According to the CDC, influenza activity has started to increase nationally. It is high in several states. The majority of the cases tested are influenza A/ H1N1, which is susceptible to the flu vaccine. There have also been some cases of influenza B detected, which is not prevented by the vaccine. However, the vast majority of cases are of susceptible strains so it makes sense to get the vaccine.
Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by a species of the orthomyxovirus family of viruses. It is spread by droplets in air made when people cough, sneeze or talk. This is the way it spreads because it can land in the mouths and noses of people nearby and be inhaled to the lungs. Another way of getting it that is not as common is by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it. A very important point about influenza spreading is that people can spread influenza without showing the symptoms of it.
The incubation period for influenza is between 1-4 days meaning that the person will have the disease and not display any symptoms for 1-4 days. Even though they do not show the symptoms, they are contagious during the incubation period and up to 5-10 days after the onset (start of symptoms). The exception to this though is people who are immunocompromised; they can stay contagious for weeks or months after the onset. Influenza is distinguished by a sudden onset of symptoms including: fever, myalgia, headache, malaise, cough, sore throat, and rhinitis. In addition, in children, the symptoms can include ear pain, nausea, and vomiting. In most of the cases, the flu resolves between 3-7 days; coughing and malaise may persist for more than 2 weeks after though.
There is a big danger in influenza in that it may lead to primary influenza viral pneumonia. It may additionally exacerbate underlying pulmonary and cardiac diseases. Endemics of Influenza occur very frequently. Approximately 40,000 Americans die from influenza and its complications every year and over 250,000 people are hospitalized. Influenza will affect all age groups, with the highest rates of infection among children and the highest rates of risks from complications, hospitalizations, and deaths are among people age 65 –and older.
The most effective way of prevention is to receive the influenza vaccine. The common myth surrounding receiving the influenza vaccine is that the vaccine will cause the person to suffer the actual influenza. This is impossible to happen because people who were vaccinated by injection receive a non-active influenza protein. The other option is that people who receive that vaccine through the nasal spray receive a live weakened influenza protein. The person who receives the vaccine may exhibit some flu-like symptoms. The influenza vaccine though must be taken annually. The reason being that the influenza virus has a very quick rate of mutation thus it is annually mutating/changing. In addition to receiving the influenza vaccine annually, having good health habits can also prevent the spread. These good health habits include avoiding close contact with sick people, staying home when you are sick, covering you mouth and nose when you are sick, cleaning your hands, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Both the cold and flu are respiratory viral infections that occur mostly in colder seasons. The main symptoms of the cold are sneezing, clogged or runny nose and sore throat. The flu has many more severe symptoms as discussed above. The cold is limited to the nose and throat. The flu has the capacity of making a person stay in bed. It is difficult to distinguish between severe cases of the cold and the flu. In those cases, laboratory tests are the only thing to tell the difference. They are both spread the same way by coming in contact with the air droplets of someone who is affected with it. The symptoms of the cold are very slow and may take a few days to fully form while the symptoms of the flu are all of a sudden and happen within a few hours.
The flu has a time that it is at its peak. For people living in the Northern Hemisphere the flu season lasts from October- to May with the highest chance being during January and February. Endemics mostly happen in the fall and winter but can also may also happen as late as April or May. Unlike in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Southern Hemisphere the flu season is from April to September.
For the influenza, there is not that much that can be done for treatment. The only thing that will help is bed rest and a lot of fluids. Sometimes the doctor might prescribe antiviral medication such as oseltamivir or zanamivir. If they are taken right after the onset, they may cut down the number of days the patient suffers the illness.