The ten most frequently asked questions about Influenza
- What is influenza?
- What causes influenza?
- How is influenza spread?
- How do I know if I have the flu or just a cold?
- What are the symptoms of influenza?
- Is influenza serious?
- How long does a bout of influenza last?
- What are the benefits of a prescription influenza treatment?
- What is swine flu?
- When should I seek medical attention?
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a viral infection that’s highly contagious. It’s more severe than a common cold and is a serious concern for the very young, the elderly or those with underlying health conditions because it can lead to complications.
Symptoms of the flu include a fever, coughing, a sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and tiredness.
Influenza is caused by three strains of the influenza virus: A, B and C. Types A and B cause seasonal flu and are associated with higher rates of hospitalisation and death. Every few years these viruses mutate and change rapidly, causing new strains of the virus.
Type C is less common and causes mild symptoms.
The influenza virus is spread through the air, by sneezes or coughs for example, and is easily passed from person to person. It can also be spread by contact; the virus can live for hours on surfaces, which means if you touch an infected surface and then your mouth or nose, you could catch the flu virus.
It’s important to understand the difference between influenza and the common cold, because the flu can cause serious complications in vulnerable people. Flu starts suddenly, with a cough being the first typical symptom, and it affects the whole body. A cold will come on gradually, starting with a blocked or runny nose or a sore throat, and affects just the nose, throat, sinuses and upper chest.
The flu is characterised by the sudden onset of the following symptoms:
- Fever (usually high) and chills
- Sore throat and coughing
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
Diarrhoea and vomiting can also happen, though this is usually only experienced by children.
Influenza is a moderately severe illness but most healthy people recover within a week. If you have underlying health problems, the flu can be very severe or even fatal. It can cause complications, most of which are bacterial infections such as bacterial pneumonia.
The flu normally lasts for around three to seven days, but some symptoms can remain for up to three weeks after initial infection. If you develop complications, such as pneumonia, sinusitis or otitis media, they can prolong the symptoms.
The only way to reduce flu symptoms is to use antiviral treatments that are only available with a prescription. Treatments such as Tamiflu can help prevent the virus from spreading and can even reduce the duration of the flu by a day and a half or more. It’s also a preventative treatment which can stop you developing the flu if you’ve been in contact with someone who has it.
Swine flu is a virulent form of influenza that’s caused by the H1N1 strain of the virus. The first cases of swine flu affecting humans were recorded in Mexico in 2009, but it spread to other countries within weeks and was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organisation in the summer of 2009.
Some say that the threat of swine flu was overestimated, as most people only suffered symptoms that were slightly more severe than the flu. Nevertheless, it did pose a serious threat to some people and it still does. In less than two years, it caused around 18,000 deaths worldwide.
Doctors usually say you shouldn’t make an appointment to see them unless your condition is serious. For that reason, you should only see a doctor if:
- You belong to the risk groups and think you have influenza
- You have a cold that’s lasted for more than seven days
- You have a constant fever that remains above 40 degrees
- Your ears hurt
- You have a headache that gets worse when you move
- Your mucous is bloody
HealthExpress.eu offers a free consultation service that can help to diagnose your condition and recommend treatment for you if you’re unsure whether you should see a doctor