Influenza or Flu
Influenza or Flu
Flu, also known as influenza, is a contagious infection that attacks your respiratory system and is caused by the influenza viruses, it can infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Flu caused by influenza is different than the stomach “flu” virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting. You can have mild to severe illness and flu can sometimes lead to death. The absolute best way to prevent flu is by getting the flu vaccine every year. Certain people can be at higher risk for developing flu complications, they include:
- Children under the age of 5, and especially those under 12 months
- Adults older than 65
- Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks postpartum
- People with weakened immune systems
- People with chronic conditions like asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes
- People who are obese with a BMI of 40 or higher
There are two main types of influenza virus, types A and B. Influenza A and B viruses commonly spread in people and are the viruses responsible for seasonal flu every year.
How Flu Spreads
Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when a person is infected with flu and coughs, sneezes, or talks they can emit the virus into the air in droplet form. You can inhale these droplets directly into your mouth or nose or you can get the germs from touching objects that have the flu virus on them and transfer them to your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Individuals infected with the flu are most contagious in the first 3 or 4 days after the illness begins. Most healthy adults could be able to infect others a day before symptoms develop and around 5-7 days after becoming sick. Children and people with weakened immune systems could pass the virus on for longer than 7 days. Symptoms can start around 2 days after the virus enters the body, but sometimes it can range from 1-4 days. This means that you could pass on flu to someone else before you even know you are sick, and some people infected with the flu virus have no symptoms and could spread the virus unknowingly.
Flu Signs & Symptoms
Flu tends to seem like the common cold initially, however, colds tend to develop slowly but flu tends to come on suddenly. Individuals sick with flu often experience some or all of these symptoms:
- Sore throat
- runny/stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children.
How Is Flu Diagnosed?
Because there are many other illnesses that cause respiratory illness similar to the flu it is impossible to tell if you have the flu based on your symptoms alone, if your doctor needs to know for sure whether or not you have the flu, there are lab tests that can be performed. During times when influenza is widespread, your doctor may treat you for influenza based on your symptoms. Other times your doctor may recommend you be tested for flu. There are a number of flu tests available that detect influenza viruses in respiratory samples.
- Rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) - this is the most common flu test. RIDTs work by detecting the parts of the virus that cause an immune response, these parts are called antigens. This test can provide results in 10-15 minutes, but the results are not as accurate as some other flu tests.
- Rapid molecular assays - this test detects the genetic material of the virus. These tests can provide results in 15-20 minutes and are more accurate than RIDTs.
- There are several more accurate and sensitive flu tests that must be performed in specialized labs like those found in hospitals or state public health labs. All of these more accurate tests require a health care provider to swab the inside of your nose or the back of your throat and send it out for testing. These results can take up to several hours.
Treatment For Flu
Flu can be treated by prescription medications called antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that come in the form of a pill, liquid, inhaled powder, or IV solution. Often people with flu have mild illness and do not require treatment with antiviral medications. If you get sick with flu you should stay home, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid contact with others unless you need to seek medical care.
If your flu symptoms are severe or you are in a high-risk group you should contact your doctor, your doctor may recommend you take an antiviral medication. The following is a list of all factors that are known to increase an individual’s risk of getting serious flu complications and that may be recommended to take an antiviral medication if infected with flu:
- Neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions
- Blood disorders like sickle cell disease
- Chronic lung disease like COPD or cystic fibrosis
- Endocrine disorders like diabetes
- Heart diseases like congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, or coronary artery disease
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders
- Obesity with a BMI of 40 or more
- Individuals younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin or salicylate-containing medications
- Individuals with weakened immune systems due to diseases like HIV, cancers, people receiving chemotherapy or radiation.
- Adults 65 years and older
- Children under 2 years old
- Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after giving birth
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- People living in nursing homes and other long term facilities.
Antiviral medication can treat flu illness and are different from antibiotics. Antiviral drugs tend to make illness milder and lessens the time you are sick and can also prevent serious flu complications like pneumonia. It is important to use antiviral medication early if you are very sick with flu or are in a high-risk group. The four FDA-approved antiviral medications used to treat the flu include:
- Oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu) - this comes in pill or liquid form and used to treat flu in people 14 days and older. Typically this is taken twice daily for 5 days but could vary depending on the severity of flu. The most common side effects are nausea and vomiting. Less common side effects are diarrhea, dizziness, headache, nosebleed, eye redness, or sleep problems.
- Zanamivir (Relenza) - this comes in a powder that is inhaled and used to treat flu in people 7 years and older. Typically this is used twice daily for 5 days but could vary depending on the severity of flu. Common side effects include dizziness and increased coughing.
- Peramivir (Rapivab) - this is given intravenously by a health care professional and is used to treat flu in people 2 years or older. This is given one time over the course of 15-30 minutes. A common side effect is diarrhea.
- Baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza) - this is a single-dose pill taken by mouth that is used to treat flu in people 12 years and older. This medication is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Baloxavir marboxil typically has very few side effects, but could include diarrhea, bronchitis, runny nose, headache, or nausea
Where To Get Online Treatment For Flu
You can go to your local doctor to be evaluated and treated for flu, however, if you are looking to prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease there are a number of digital clinics that can diagnose and treat flu online. Seeking medical care online is convenient, easy, and affordable, but keep in mind that there is always the chance of misdiagnosis as they are diagnosing you on symptoms only. Digital clinics, after evaluating your symptoms, may also recommend that you see a doctor in person, however, it is still a great place to start seeking care when you are not feeling well.
- Alpha medical
- Live Health Online
- Carie Health
- Health Tap
- Cabinet Health
How To Prevent Flu & Control The Spread of Infection
The best way to prevent flu is by getting the flu vaccine every year. The flu vaccine can reduce flu illnesses, doctors visits, and missed school or work due to flu illness. Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza. Getting the flu vaccine could also make flu illness milder if you get sick after vaccination. Beyond getting the flu vaccine there are many steps you can take to stop the spread of flu and germs, including:
- Avoiding contact with sick people
- Limit contact with others when you are sick
- If you are sick with flu-like symptoms stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and discard tissue and wash your hands
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth these are the most common ways germs are spread
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may have been contaminated with germs
Getting flu is something we all try and avoid, but getting the flu vaccine every year is not 100% effective and preventing this illness. There are many different flu viruses, flu vaccines are created to protect against 3-4 viruses that are predicted to be the most common. According to the CDC “recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60 T% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” There are many benefits to getting the flu vaccine, however, even if you get the vaccine you may still get the flu. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms there are many digital clinics that can diagnose and treat you for flu all without ever having to leave your home. This option is not only convenient, but it helps prevent the spread of the illness. We have created a list of the top digital clinics that can treat flu, check them out today to start feeling better more quickly!