Often synonymous with the common cold due to the similarities in symptoms, influenza is a much more virulent illness, especially for those with other chronic health conditions.
With a prevalence of nearly 1 billion infections globally each year, 3 to 5 million of which develop into a severe illness, influenza is the most common viral infection in the world. Influenza is contracted mostly through the airborne transmission of the virus that is shed during sneezing and coughing.
The flu is typically seasonal in nature, occurring mostly during colder months between November and February.
In what follows, we’ll discuss influenza and its symptomatology, treatment, and prevention measures while concluding with a long-term outlook. We’ll also be discussing the different aspects of the flu, the common cold, and Covid-19.
Characteristics Of Influenza
More commonly known as the flu, influenza is a viral respiratory infection affecting the lungs, trachea, throat, and nose. Influenza is often a more difficult illness than a simple cold and can be debilitating for even the healthiest individuals. It can be especially dangerous in the older and immunocompromised populations.
These are the four types of influenza:
- Influenza A
- Influenza B
- Influenza C
- Influenza D
While all types of influenza are similar in nature and can cause severe disease, Influenza A is the only virus that has been involved in cases of pandemic and epidemic proportions.
Influenza infection can start as mild in some cases and, in other cases, may be severe at the beginning. A standard case of influenza may last anywhere from 3-5 days to 3-5 weeks, depending on the individual. The most likely symptom to persist is fatigue.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Influenza
Many cases of the influenza virus can be serious, and individuals can be affected for prolonged periods of days, if not weeks. Unlike the common cold, which tends only to affect the ears, nose, and throat, influenza can have an impact on the entire body.
The following are the most common signs and symptoms of influenza:
- Incessant Coughing
- Extreme Fatigue
- Sneezing and Congestion
- Aches, Pains, and Chills
- Nausea and Diarrhea
- High Fever
- Sore and Scratchy Throat
- Headache and Earaches
- Weight Loss
- Delusion and Confusion
The signs and symptoms of the flu share a few similarities with the common cold; however, the symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer. In addition, influenza shares similarities with the symptoms of Covid-19, making it almost impossible to distinguish between the two. The other complicating issue is that both infections can actually occur simultaneously.
Treatment and Preventative Measures
There are treatments available and effective for treating and managing influenza symptoms. However, individuals that have severe illness will often require oral or intravenous hydration to recover.
The following are the most common and effective treatments available for influenza:
- Rest and Hydration
- Over-the-counter medication (Tylenol, Advil, NyQuil)
- Prescription Anti-Viral Drugs
- Home Remedies (Honey, Tea, Soup)
The newest antiviral medication works by interfering with the ability of the Influenza virus to spread after it replicates inside target respiratory cells. This prevents the replicated influenza virions from infecting additional cells, and this assists the immune system control of the infection. One of the most commonly used antivirals is Tamiflu (Oseltamivir). Tamiflu has been the most effective when it is started at the beginning stage of the illness.
Preventative measures for influenza are hand washing, avoiding coughing into your hands (use tissue or inner elbow), and being careful about touching public railings or faucets. Masks have definitely been effective in preventing the spread of influenza, as was demonstrated during the peak of COVID. During this period, influenza numbers were markedly decreased.
The following are the most effective preventative measures for influenza:
- Annual Flu Vaccination
- Practice Good Hygiene (Wash Hands and Mouth)
- Remain Vigilant Around Ill Individuals
- Wear a Mask
- Boost Your Immunity Holistically (Exercise, Nutrition, Supplementation)
While hygienic approaches to prevention are effective and boosting your health and immunity is imperative, the best protection against the flu is the flu vaccine. Flu shots are administered annually and can be received at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, walk-in clinics, and other public health departments. Both children and adults are able to get the flu vaccine.
Influenza, particularly type A, is a highly contagious, highly virulent infection that can cause serious complications, especially for those with underlying health conditions.
While some cases of the flu may be mild, it’s still important to consider all preventative measures for improving immunity, not only for current circumstances but for future protection against infection.
Finally, with a highly efficacious and effective flu vaccine that is widely available, it’s important to consider getting an annual flu shot to protect yourself as well as others around you. Again, it’s important to discuss this with your primary care provider so that you can make an educated decision about this important health issue.