The flu season is here. This is all you need to know about symptoms, complications and vaccines

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Many of us describe any winter insects we have as flu, but in reality, it is equally likely that we are experiencing a cold or one of the many viral cousins ​​of the flu.

We will explore:

The flu, short for flu, is caused by a highly infectious virus. It spreads through the air by infected people who cough and sneeze and from viruses present on hands and surfaces. It multiplies in people's airway cells and causes an respiratory infection.

Anatomy of the flu

The viral particles that cause the influence are tiny and measure about one ten thousandth of a millimeter in diameter.

The virus effectively hijacks the infected cell, transforming it into a factory of influence. Every infected cell can produce thousands of new viral particles.

With each cough or sneeze, they spray millions and roam in the air until they are breathed by another person. Other particles fall on surfaces where they can be spread to the touch.

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The influence also has a short incubation period; the gap between virus exposure and symptom development is one to four days, according to the US National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

The period in which you are contagious can vary. You may be able to spread the infection a day or two before you are sick, until the symptoms subside (about a week after the onset – even if the cough and fatigue can persist for several weeks).

For most people, the first three or four days when you have symptoms is when you are most contagious, says NCIRD.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

The flu infection is limited to the respiratory tract – nose, throat and respiratory tract – but it is known well and truly throughout the body while the immune system faces the virus.

Most people complain of chills and high fever, muscle aches and pains, feeling tired, headache, sore throat and cough.

In children, the flu can also trigger abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

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Compared to a typical cold, the flu usually lasts longer – up to a week – and causes fever, cold sweats and body aches throughout the body, while these tend to be less severe or absent if you have a cold.

Other infections may appear to be the influence. These include bacterial pneumonia – more common in people with preexisting chest problems including asthma or emphysema – and sore throat, which is a streptococcal bacterial infection in the throat.

Meningitis can also begin with flu-like symptoms, including headaches and fever, but these are accompanied by other more distinct symptoms such as drowsiness (or hard to wake up), stiff neck, photophobia (aversion to bright lights), vomiting and a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it.

In young children, one of the many viruses that causes the common cold can cause symptoms more similar to the flu.

Who is at risk of flu complications?

Tissue box and a cup of tea for a story about everything you need to know about the influence.
Image You can help avoid the flu by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and washing your hands regularly.(Unsplash: Kelly Sikkema)

Most cases of flu resolve on their own and without significant consequences, but some groups are much more at risk of complications.

These include those over 65 years. This group represents the majority of deaths related to the influence.

This is because with increasing age, the body becomes less robust and the immune system becomes less effective in responding quickly to new infections.

The very young they are also vulnerable to flu complications.

Infants and young children are more likely to be hospitalized when they take the flu and to develop more severe symptoms than adults. This is because their immune system has not yet learned to recognize and neutralize the virus.

In addition to the elderly and children, people with chronic diseases I'm also at risk.

These include heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, asthma and other respiratory diseases, which lower the body's defenses.

Aboriginal and island people of the Torres Strait they are also more at risk of contracting the flu and often have more serious outcomes as a result of the infection.

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Research has shown pregnant women and their unborn children complications are more likely to occur if the mother contracts the flu.

Along with the increasing demands placed on the body by the pregnancy itself, this effect also means that the disease can last up to three times longer than normal.

In Australia, vaccination against influenza is recommended for all pregnant women and can be given at any time during pregnancy.

Possible complications of the flu may include things like asthma, secondary bacterial infections in the lungs, and febrile convulsions in young children. Further information on potential influenza complications is listed below.

You are entitled to receive a free flu vaccination if you are:

  • Six months or more and have special medical risk factors, including heart disease or severe asthma
  • An Aboriginal or Islander of the Torres Strait beyond the age of six months
  • Aged 65 years and over
  • Pregnant

And the flu vaccine?

There are three types of influenza viruses identified in humans: A, B and C.

Types A and B produce essentially identical diseases, while influenza C usually affects only children and produces milder symptoms, more like a cold.

The mainstay of influenza prevention is the flu vaccine, which contains a cocktail of three or four viral strains, providing protection against influenza A and influenza B infections.

Every year in Australia there is a new "recipe" for the flu vaccine, and this implies some guess work.

While experts make decisions based on information on recent models of influenza epidemics around the world, they still have to predict which strains of flu will be most common in the upcoming Australian flu season.

Since the vaccine must be planned and produced many months before the start of the flu season, the strains on which the vaccines are based each year may not always be in line with the influenza virus strains that end up circular.

The fact that the influenza virus can change rapidly increases the difficulty in making accurate predictions.

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Because the vaccine stimulates the immune response in the same way as the virus, vaccination can sometimes produce mild flu-like symptoms for a day or more after administration.

This occurs more commonly in children than in adults, but in no case can the vaccine cause the flu. Contains only dead viral strains.

Individuals with an allergy to eggs should consult a doctor before immunization because the eggs are involved in the production of the flu vaccine.

Even in the years when the flu vaccine does not work as desired by health experts, there are benefits to being vaccinated. In many studies, influenza vaccination has been demonstrated to reduce the severity of the disease in vaccinated people who are still sick.

Being vaccinated alone can also protect the people around you, including those who are most vulnerable to serious flu illnesses.

This is important because the complications of influenza can be serious for certain people and can sometimes kill even healthy young people.

Treatment and prevention of influenza

In uncomplicated cases of influenza, the best treatment is rest, plenty of fluids and simple over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol.

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, including influenza, but can be useful if a secondary bacterial infection develops, such as pneumonia or tonsillitis.

There are antiviral drugs specifically designed to fight the flu, but they work better if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms and the doctor must prescribe them.

You can also reduce the risk of contracting the flu:

Other general measures that could help include:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

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What are some possible complications arising from the influence?

Asthma: This can become (temporarily) worse. If breathing remains difficult despite the increasing use of the inhaler, consult your doctor.

Croup or larynx-tracheo-bronchitis: This condition, characterized by a "barking" cough, occurs in children and can be triggered by the influence.

Febrile convulsions: In any disease associated with fever, children aged between six months and five years may occasionally suffer brief attacks or convulsions.

This is not the same as epilepsy and resolves spontaneously once the disease has passed.

Secondary bacterial infections in the lungs (pneumonia), in the middle ear (otitis media, common in children) and in the sinuses (sinusitis): Being sick with influenza can make you more vulnerable to a secondary infection with bacteria. This can occur in the lungs (causing pneumonia), the middle ear (causing an infection of the middle ear) and in the paranasal sinuses (causing sinusitis). Antibiotic treatment may be required.

Viral pneumonia: This occurs when the virus itself causes damage to the lung tissue, leading to worsening breathing, a dry cough and, in severe cases, confusion and a bluish discoloration of the skin due to low blood oxygen levels.

Viral pneumonia is less common than its bacterial counterpart but is extremely serious. The patient usually needs to be put on a ventilator, and the condition is often fatal.

Reye syndrome: This sometimes fatal condition occurs in children up to 15 years of age and is triggered by influenza B infections or the virus that causes chickenpox.

Leads to brain swelling and abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver. It also produces drowsiness, inactivity or irrational behavior.

Aspirin-containing remedies should not be given to children under 15 because they can increase the risk of Reye's Syndrome.

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Inflammation of the muscles (myositis) or heart (myocarditis): This can sometimes follow the infection with the flu, particularly in children.

With myositis, the muscles become tender, most obviously in the legs. If heart inflammation occurs, there may be palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort and rapid pulse.

These conditions usually resolve spontaneously, but can be aggravated by exercise. It is therefore advisable to rest completely until the symptoms of the flu resolve.

miscarriage: Rarely, a severe bout of flu can trigger the miscarriage.

Neurological problems: Very rarely, the infection with the flu can lead to problems with the nervous system, including viral and post-viral encephalitis (inflammation in the brain), and a condition that causes muscle weakness known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Kidney failure: Dehydration caused by insufficient fluid intake may be sufficient to cause renal (renal) failure in some people, particularly if they have pre-existing kidney disease. However, this is usually reversible with rehydration.

Note: If you think you or someone else might need an ambulance, but you're not sure, you can call triple 0 and talk to someone. If you just want advice on a health condition and what to do next, healthdirect Australia (1800 022 222) is a free telephone line, available 24 hours a day, with nursing staff.

This is just general information. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified doctor who knows your medical history.

This story, which was originally written by Chris Smith and published by ABC Health and Wellbeing, has recently been updated. It has been reviewed by Professor John Upham and by Dr. Ian Barr.

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