Overview and Facts about Influenza
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral infection. There are many strains of the flu virus, and you can build up an immunity to certain strains; however, you may still be vulnerable to others.
The flu season generally lasts from October to February, but you can catch the flu any time of the year.
While many people recover from the flu with at-home care, some flu cases can be serious. If you suspect you have the flu, call your primary care doctor for advice.
Signs and Symptoms of Influenza
Common flu symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Dry cough
- High fever
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
Flu symptoms are often confused with those of the common cold. However, cold symptoms are usually mild.
A cold often causes sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose, but colds rarely cause high fever or body aches. Cold symptoms also tend to develop gradually, but flu symptoms can appear suddenly and worsen quickly.
While colds seldom need medical attention, the flu can be much more severe.
Causes and Risk Factors of Influenza
The flu is caused by a virus and usually spreads through droplets of saliva. People with the flu are typically contagious for up to one day before the onset of illness and for five to seven days after symptoms first appear.
Most healthy adults can recover from the flu without any special medical care, but some flu cases can be fatal.
Seniors and young children are at an especially high risk for flu complications. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are also at increased risk.
Tests and Diagnosis of Influenza
Most doctors can diagnose the flu by reviewing the patient’s symptoms. However, your doctor may choose to perform a simple in-office test to confirm it’s the flu.
During this test, your doctor swipes the inside of your nose or throat with a swab. The swab is then tested for the flu virus.
These tests are not foolproof. You may have the flu even if the in-office test is negative. Sometimes, your doctor may treat you for the flu even if you have a negative flu test.
Treatment and Care of Influenza
Many cases of flu resolve on their own with at-home care. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve your symptoms too.
Your doctor may also recommend prescription medications to help shorten the duration of your illness. Antiviral drugs can help reduce your risk of flu complications.
The best way to avoid flu complications is to not get sick in the first place. The flu vaccine is a highly effective method of preventing the flu.
Most doctors recommend that you get your flu shot each year between September and November.