What is the flu?
Influenza, recognized as the common flu, is a notably contagious viral infection that often causes infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. It’s possible that the virus may affect many other body systems and sometimes can cause extreme illness, especially in the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems, or those with asthma, or some other underlying condition. In such cases, the virus can cause secondary complications like pneumonia, inflammation of the brain or heart, or could worsen the effects of chronic disease.
The most common type of flu is the “seasonal” flu. In temperate climates, annual influenza outbreaks commonly take place throughout the winter months (eg, October to March in the Northern hemisphere; April to September in the Southern hemisphere) In tropical and subtropical climates, flu season may take place year-round, frequently peaking during cooler or rainy-season months.
In Singapore, flu season occurs year-round with two peak seasons, one between December and February (during the Northern Hemisphere winter) and also between May and July (during the Southern Hemisphere winter).
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of seasonal flu can differ from person to person but usually include:
- Fever (temperature higher than 37.8°C)
- Headache and muscle aches
- Cough and sore throat can also also be present
People with the flu usually have a fever for two to 5 days. This is different than fever caused by other upper respiratory viruses, which commonly resolve after 24 to 48 hours.
Most people with influenza have fever and muscle aches, and some people also have cold-like symptoms (runny nose, sore throat). Flu symptoms usually get better after two to five days, although the illness may last for a week or more. The feeling of weakness and fatigue may last for an additional few weeks.
The flu can only be definitely diagnosed by using a flu test, typically administered by a healthcare provider, although there are at-home flu kits available. These kits use a respiratory sample gathered by swabbing the inside of the nose, then certain chemicals in the kit react when the influenza virus is detected.
Symptomatic treatment of the flu
Treating the symptoms of influenza can help you feel better but will not make the flu go away faster. Here are some suggestions:
- Rest until the flu is completely resolved, particularly if the illness has been severe.
- Fluids – Drink sufficient fluids so that you do not become dehydrated. One way to decide if you are consuming enough is to look at the color of your urine. Normally, urine should be straw-colored to almost clear. If you are drinking enough, you will probably pass urine every three to 5 hours.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can relieve fever, headache, and muscle aches. Aspirin and drugs that encompass aspirin (eg, bismuth subsalicylate [Pepto-Bismol]) are not encouraged for kids under 18 due to the fact aspirin can lead to a serious disorder known as Reye syndrome.
- Cough medicine typically is not very helpful; cough generally resolves without medicine. Although there are studies that show that drinking pineapple juice can help suppress a cough.
Antiviral remedy — Antiviral medicines can be used to treat or prevent influenza. When used as a treatment, the medicine does not eliminate flu symptoms, although it can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms by about one day. Not every person with influenza needs an antiviral medicine, but some people do; the decision is based upon several factors. If you are severely ill and/or have risk factors for developing complications of influenza, you may need an antiviral agent. Typically antiviral medicine needs to be administered during the first forty-eight hours of symptom onset, otherwise, the medicine is not very effective.
The influenza virus mutates frequently. So this year’s strains of viruses would be different from previous year’s. This means the flu shot you had last year would not shield you from the current flu season virus. That’s why the MOH recommends getting a flu shot each year.
Getting vaccinated remains the best way to keep yourself and others safe from the flu. The more people who receive flu shots in a community, the less likely it is for the flu to spread among the population.
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