The influenza virus, sometimes known as the flu, can produce uncomfortable headaches, aches and pains throughout the body, and a lack of energy in some people. However, for others, the virus can be far more deadly, even life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 80,000 people lost their lives to the influenza virus and other flu-related complications during the 2017-2018 flu season (CDC). From 2010 to 2014, the annual death toll reached anything from 12,000 to 56,000 people depending on who you asked.
According to Matthew Tincher, MD, an emergency medicine physician working at TriStar Horizon Medical Center in Dickson, Tennessee, “the flu is an infection of the respiratory system that is caused by the influenza virus.”
Despite the fact that the symptoms might range from mild to severe, he emphasises that the illness is distinct from the typical cold. Both the common cold and the influenza virus are caused by distinct viruses and manifest themselves in distinctive ways. With influenza, symptoms such as fever, body pains, and weakness are typical, although a cold is less likely to cause these symptoms. Sneezing, a stuffy nose, and a sore throat are typical cold symptoms, all of which develop gradually over the course of the illness.
The influenza virus can infect everyone, however certain populations are more likely to have negative reactions to the virus. Determine which patients are at the most danger and which symptoms may require immediate medical attention.
Who is most likely to have problems from the flu?
Children: Children under the age of 5, and especially those under the age of 2, are at an increased risk of developing dangerous influenza complications due to the fact that their immune systems are not as developed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that each year since 2010, between 7,000 and 26,000 children younger than 5 have been hospitalised for complications connected to the flu.
Women who are pregnant: Because pregnancy can modify the immune system as well as the heart and lungs, experiencing the flu when a woman is pregnant puts the expecting mother at a higher risk for more severe symptoms and problems related to the flu, such as pneumonia.
“Your physiology, blood pressure, blood flow, and heart rate are all different during pregnancy,” Tincher says. “This is because the baby is taking up a lot of your blood flow and nutrients.” [Citation needed] “Your physiology, blood pressure, blood flow, and heart rate are all different during pregnancy.”
This sensitivity may linger for up to two weeks following the delivery of the baby. The flu can also create complications for an unborn child, including early delivery as well as birth abnormalities affecting the brain, spine, and spinal cord. Getting vaccinated against the flu while pregnant can offer some protection to both the mother and the unborn child after delivery, before the child is old enough to be inoculated themselves.
Adults aged 65 and up: As we get older, our immune systems become more susceptible to damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 70 and 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people over the age of 65. Hospitalizations related to the seasonal flu are caused in the elderly between 54 and 70 percent of the time.
According to Tincher, “since their immune systems are not completely engaged, it is much simpler for the virus to take hold in their bodies.”
People who already have health problems may see a worsening of their symptoms if they contract the flu since it makes the body weaker. Because of this, persons who have diseases such as asthma and diabetes may have a more difficult time controlling their symptoms when they have a cold or the flu. One example would be how infections such as the flu make it more difficult for diabetics to keep their blood sugar levels under control.
A study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2018 found that having influenza can also increase your chance of having a heart attack. According to the findings, adults have a risk of having a heart attack that is six times higher within a week of being diagnosed with the flu compared to the risk that exists one year before or after the illness. During the 2017-2018 flu season, approximately half of all adult patients admitted to hospitals had cardiovascular illness.
People who have certain disorders also have a larger chance of developing problems due to the flu:
- Lung conditions that are always present, such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Liver and kidney problems
- Conditions related to the nervous system, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy
- Conditions of the blood, such as sickle cell disease
Conditions or treatments, such as cancer, HIV, or steroids, that are known to suppress the immune system include:
- Obesity of a severe degree, defined as a body mass index of 40 or above
If you have any of these medical conditions and are experiencing symptoms similar to those of the flu, you should consult with your healthcare provider (HCP) about receiving the appropriate treatment.
When is immediate medical attention required?
Symptoms of the flu often begin manifesting themselves quickly anywhere from one to four days after being exposed to the virus. There is a wide range of possible durations for the disease, from a few days to two weeks. Coughing, chills, headaches, weariness, muscle pains, and sore throat are some of the most common symptoms of the common cold. The majority of people who have the flu will have fever during their illness.
Despite this, some patients will suffer complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, sepsis, bronchitis, sinus or ear infections, or ear infections. Both pneumonia and sepsis are potentially life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention.
However, the majority of cases of influenza are mild and may be treated at home, without the assistance of a health expert, despite the fact that certain symptoms may suggest the need for treatment. If an adult experiences any of the following symptoms, they should seek emergency medical attention:
- Having trouble breathing or a feeling of being short of breath
- Severe or chronic vomiting
- discomfort or pressure in the chest or the abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Symptoms that improve, but then reappear with a higher temperature and a worsening cough
Tincher notes that not all patients diagnosed with influenza are required to report to the emergency room. Treatment for the flu can be administered in the office of the patient’s primary care physician for the vast majority of healthy adults and children. Can’t get an appointment? Go to the emergency room of your local hospital.
Be on the lookout for symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a fever accompanied by a rash, an absence of tears when sobbing, or skin that is bluish in colour in infants and children. Tincher notes that children who have the flu may exhibit symptoms such as a decreased level of activity, fever, rapid breathing, or coughing. According to him, the presence of any of these symptoms in your small child may be an indication of a severe illness or a complication of the flu.
Tincher argues that a healthy youngster should be active, have a smile on their face, and play. He advises that you take your child to the emergency room if you see that he or she is behaving irritable or uncooperative and you suspect that this may be the result of the flu.
What is the most effective method for avoiding getting the flu?
For those aged 6 months and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests getting vaccinated against influenza using either the injectable vaccine or the nasal spray vaccination, depending on the individual’s age and overall health profile. Children under the age of 8 who have never received the vaccine in the past should have two doses of the vaccine administered at least 28 days apart from one another. Before getting immunised, you should consult with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms of illness or if you have an allergy to the vaccine or any of its components. After you have recovered from your cold, your healthcare provider will be able to reschedule your appointment for the immunisation and offer you more guidance on how to avoid contracting viruses.
According to research, getting vaccinated can reduce your risk of influenza by between 40 and 60 percent, however the effectiveness of the vaccine can change from year to year. Even if the vaccination doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, it can lessen the severity of the illness and protect you from potentially life-threatening complications.
Cases of influenza can appear as early as October or as late as May, although the peak season for flu activity is normally between the months of December and February. Even immunizations given in January or later can help protect against illness, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking the flu shot by the end of October.
You should be aware, however, that the nasal spray is not suggested for anybody under the age of two, anyone over the age of 49, anyone who is immunocompromised, or anyone between the ages of two and seventeen who is taking medications that contain aspirin. Although pregnant women shouldn’t get the nasal spray flu vaccine, the traditional shot is perfectly safe to give them, despite common misunderstandings.
A high-dose vaccine is also available for adults over the age of 65, and evidence indicates that it may be more successful in preventing influenza in elderly adults than the conventional influenza injection.
Vaccines offer protection not only to those who have received the shot, but also to those who have not because they stop the spread of disease. This is of utmost significance for young children as well as people who struggle with health conditions that prevent them from receiving a flu vaccination. To achieve true “herd” immunity, a certain proportion of the society must be immunised before it can work effectively. When more people become vaccinated against influenza, our overall level of protection against the disease increases.
Getting vaccinated against influenza is only the first step towards preventing other winter infections. Additionally, Tincher suggests avoiding contact with sick persons whenever it is possible. Additional measures to combat infection include the following:
- Regularly washing your hands for at least twenty seconds with liquid soap and running water
- Stay away from your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cleaning and decontaminating items and spaces on a regular basis at home, at the office, and in the classroom
- Techniques for stress management include going for a run or picking up the phone to talk to a friend.
- Getting the recommended amount of sleep per night, which is between 7 and 9 hours.
- Consuming a diet that is both nutritious and well-balanced
If you have the flu, you may help prevent it from spreading to others by staying in bed for at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and staying away from crowds.