How to avoid Influenza?
What is Influenza (Flu)?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness, caused by the influenza virus, which infects our nose, throat, and lungs. This can be mild or severe, and if not treated timely can even lead to death. Due to its frequency and contagious nature, it is advised by most physicians to opt for a flu vaccine to stay protected.
Why is it so contagious? ENT experts say that the flu virus spreads in tiny droplets that come out every time an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets are easily airborne and land on the faces, especially the mouth or nose area, of people in close vicinity. If a person touches a surface with the flu virus on it and then touches their face with it, they can also get the virus. This was the same way the COVID-19 virus had spread, only the common flu or influenza virus is not so fatal if treated right.
Who is at risk of getting influenza?
Any healthy person can catch the flu virus. Some people are at a greater risk than others of catching it. Complications from the flu virus can happen at any age, but the following are more susceptible to getting it:
- Children below the age of 5 years with low immunity.
- People above the age of 65 years.
- People with pre-existing chronic medical conditions.
- (eg: asthma, diabetes, coronary disease)
- Expectant mothers and those planning pregnancy.
- Patients in nursing homes and care facilities.
- Those with weak immune systems.
- Those with a BMI of 40 or more
Now that we understand what influenza is, why it is contagious and who is at a greater risk of getting it, let us understand the causes of influenza.
What are the causes of influenza?
The influenza virus is responsible for causing the flu. Influenza A, B and C are the most common types of flu viruses that infect people. While Influenza A & B are seasonal i.e., mostly occur around winter, Influenza C is not seasonal. However, the symptoms found under cases of Influenza A & B are much more severe compared to Influenza C.
Like all viral infections, when transmitted it only grows when our immunity is at its weakest. This is a highly contagious illness since it can be spread by touch and proximity. Any exchange of respiratory fluids will be able to trigger the virus in another person’s body. In most cases, we ignore the initial irritation that develops into full-grown symptoms of the flu. The key lies in proper prevention and maintenance of hygiene.
But how will you know which type has caused your illness? It will be found through a pathological test where a sample of your mucus will be collected from your nose. A long stick with a soft swab tip will be inserted in your nose to collect the mucus. The results will be given in 48 hours. This is similar to the RT PCR test done for COVID-19. This test is usually prescribed by your physician to identify the right course of treatment.
What are the symptoms of influenza?
Flu symptoms arrive suddenly and multiply swiftly. If someone is sick, they can automatically spread the virus by touch or proximity. However, one can also spread the virus before they are aware that they have contracted the virus. It has been seen that people with the virus are most contagious in the first 72 hours from the onset of the illness. Having said that, people can transfer the virus even after 5 to seven days of contracting it. In this case, those who are infected are children or adults with weakened immune systems.
The symptoms start showing from the 2nd or 3rd day of catching the virus. Mostly the symptoms are similar to the common cold. But one or more of these are observed in flu patients too. Such as:
- Fever or feverish chills
- Cough or sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Headaches, muscle and body aches
- Fatigue due to the above
- Vomiting and diarrhoea in children but rarely
If the flu is not severe, then it will not be accompanied by fever. Fever is an indication that the virus has spread all over the respiratory system.
What are the preventive measures?
Flu starts small but can lead to very complicated and fatal outcomes if not treated properly. So the first step towards ensuring this is properly done, is to make sure we have some clear preventive measures in place.
- Get a flu vaccine annually: With the help of a flu vaccine we can reduce the recurrence of the illness every time there is a seasonal change. The flu vaccine helps reduce the risk of serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalisation.
- Social distancing: This was the main mantra during COVID-19 which also had flu-like symptoms. It is best to stay away from people who are sick or are having coughs and sneezes.
- Practise good hygiene: As we know that the virus can spread from touching infected surfaces and people, we must get into the habit of frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds to slow down the spread of the flu. In case you are an infected person, try to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and don’t leave your used tissues astray. Get into the habit of using sanitizers in absence of soap or water.
- Use protective gear: Apart from this, we can wear N95 masks to protect our mouths and nose in places like hospitals and welfare centres where people come for medical help. This is particularly applicable to healthcare staff.
What are the lifestyle and home remedies for flu?
If you are down with the flu or a loved one is down with it, and it is not a severe case, then you may do the following at home:
- Increase your fluid intake, drink water and stay hydrated. Apart from the water, you can also have juice or warm soup to avoid dehydration
- Take rest and sleep as much as possible. Your immune system will fight the infection better in your sleep as all your energy will be concentrated on your immunity
- Take doctor-prescribed pain relief medication in case of body aches caused by the virus
- Wear a mask and wash your hands often to prevent it from spreading to others in your family
How to control the spread of infection?
The influenza vaccine is helpful but not 100% effective. Therefore, it is important to take special measures to reduce the spread of infection.
- Wash your hands frequently for up to 20 seconds and sanitise in absence of soap.
- If already infected, practise restraint in touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover your face when you cough or sneeze, with a tissue or your elbow.
- Clean regularly touched surfaces to prevent the virus from spreading by touch.
- Flu is a communicable disease, hence avoiding crowds and large gatherings is desirable. If you must, then wear a mask and avoid touching surfaces.
- If you are sick, maintain social distancing and avoid places like child care centres, schools, offices, public transportation, etc. to lower the chances of spread.
- If you are sick, don’t share food or utensils used by you.
- Include vitamins and antioxidants in your diet to keep your immunity strong.
To conclude, it is best to be prepared and protected during flu season. Adopt safety and hygiene practices to protect yourself and those around you. If you feel any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek proper medical attention to prevent the fatality and complications that may arise with severe flu. You can always reach out to the CK Birla Hospital or book an appointment with our ENT, Dr Kuldeep Grover to get treatment for all your respiratory health concerns.