You might think you have the seasonal flu. Or perhaps a common cold? How to differentiate between those two and why does it matter?
Both of these ailments were caused by different kinds of viruses, share a few common symptoms but their treatments can be different.
Influenza or commonly known as the seasonal flu is a respiratory illness which is quite contagious.
Unlike the common cold which can be caused by nearly 200 different kinds of viruses, flu can only be caused by either of the 3 strains of Influenza, namely Influenza A, Influenza B and Influenza C.
This particular illness can be spread from person to person by sneezing, coughing or talking.
The virus also can be transferred to inanimate objects such as the doorknobs when there is direct contact with infected individuals.
Is it dangerous?
If people with a good immune system are infected by the seasonal flu, they typically present with mild illness and will recover in less than two weeks.
No antiviral treatment needed unless there are indications for it.
Giving antivirals to all sorts of people with flu would increase the risk of mutations that could give rise to antiviral resistance species.
Those medications are usually reserved for people with a higher risk of developing complications which can be detrimental to their overall health.
- Children especially those who are younger than 2 years old
- Elderly people (65 years old and above)
- Pregnant women up to two weeks postpartum
- People with weak immune systems
- People who are morbidly obese (body mass index (BMI) of 40 and above)
- People with chronic illnesses (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, liver diseases, asthma, heart disease)
- Residents of nursing homes
For all of these people, vaccination can reduce the risk of getting complications related to the illness.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in late October 2018, there were 186 reported child deaths from seasonal flu.
80% of those cases involved children who have never received vaccinations.
This emphasizes the importance of flu vaccines, especially for those who are listed above, to prevent complications from taking place.
Symptoms of seasonal flu
It’s difficult to tell the difference between the flu and the common cold. People usually presented with the same set of symptoms.
If you have the following symptoms, you might want to get yourself checked.
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body ache
The symptoms for flu are usually much more severe than a common cold. These are some of the possible manifestations of flu:
- Severe muscle and body aches
- Severe fatigue up to two weeks
- Moderate to high fever
- Dry, hacking cough
- Diarrhoea (a common presentation in children)
Unlike the common cold which is often gradual in onset, flu can present itself within hours and last up to 2 weeks.
Treatments for seasonal flu
Not everyone who was diagnosed with Influenza requires antiviral. Some cases are mild and can be treated conservatively through proper hydration and social seclusion to prevent spread.
If you or your child is getting sick you need to ensure that you:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Treat symptoms such as fever with over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol
- Wash and keep your hand clean regularly to prevent spreading the viruses
- Cover your mouth when sneezes or coughs with tissues. Immediately dispose of them later.
If your symptoms become worse, you should immediately consult your doctor. Please be reminded that conservative management is only suited for those with a normal immune system.
High-risk individuals (as listed) should be brought to medical attention as soon as possible to be treated.
Doctors will usually prescribe antiviral medications to prevent complications from the viruses.
The most common antiviral is Oseltamivir which is marketed as Tamiflu. Please don’t use this medication without a proper prescription as currently, Tamiflu is widely sold on the internet.
Improper use of Tamiflu can lead to the emergence of resistance species making it difficult to eradicate the virus and easier for people to develop complications.
Complications that can arise
Some people especially those who are classified as high risk are prone to develop complications.
These are some of the complications which are associated with the seasonal flu:
- Sinus infections
- Ear infections
Seasonal flu vaccine
During the influenza season in 2016 and 2017, as high as 5.3 million ailments were prevented along with 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 hospitalizations.
Prevention is better than cure. Even if we have the best medicine to treat the flu at our disposal, it’s still a good idea to get a seasonal flu shot anyway.
Patients who have been vaccinated are 59% less likely to experience severe complications of the illness which can involve admission into the intensive care unit (ICU).
According to the CDC, vaccination against influenza A and influenza B have an overall effectiveness rate of 40%.
This means you would have a 40% reduction in overall risk to seek medical attention for seasonal flu-related illness.
Getting a vaccine for your child can also protect them from severe complications of the disease and reduce their overall risk of mortality.
In Malaysia, flu vaccines which are available in the government hospital are reserved for the high-risk group including children under the age of 2 years old.
If you need to get a seasonal flu vaccine for yourself, pay a visit to the nearest GP clinic.
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