Every year he returns, and bed rests millions of people around the world. That is, it assumes the characteristics of an epidemic. In Italy, its maximum diffusion is between December and February. In this article, we will give you a complete guide about flu symptoms and treatment.
The flu is one of the most common diseases. It consists of infection caused by a virus, which affects the respiratory system, from the nose to the lungs. So it is highly contagious and spreads rapidly by air, especially in crowded environments, such as schools, offices, or nursing homes. It is not a serious ailment: in most cases, the disease subsides within a week. However, fatigue can continue for a longer period. If left untreated, however, the flu can also cause serious complications. The elderly heart patients run the greatest risks. Those suffering from respiratory problems, infants, pregnant women, debilitated people. Which is thus defenseless against the new viral strain. For this reason, the vaccination, the only real defense against the flu, must be repeated every year.
Flu Symptoms and Treatment
The viruses responsible for the infection belong to the orthomixo virus family and are distinguished from those of other infectious disorders by two characteristics. First of all, there is no single type of virus. Still, several, A, B, and C: the first two are responsible for the classic form of flu. While type C, generally asymptomatic, causes an infection similar to a cold. Type A viruses circulate both in humans and other animal species (birds, pigs, horses) and are divided into subtypes. Usually, the virus is transmitted from birds to pigs and from pigs to humans. Type B viruses are present only in humans, and there are no distinct subtypes.
Secondly, influenza viruses are mutant. That is, they change from year to year, thus forcing our immune system each time to produce new antibodies capable of facing and defeating them. For example, if a person has passed a type A virus infection the previous year, he is not sure that he is immune to relapses the following year. The same virus can present itself modified, and the body, to neutralize it, must new antibodies.
Influenza viruses survive only in the cells of the upper respiratory tract: nose, pharynx, and larynx. This means that if bronchopneumonia develops during or following the flu, the culprits cannot be the flu viruses: in this case, the disease is due to bacteria taking advantage of the person’s state of weakness, the bronchi, and lungs. The virus that infects wild and domestic birds (including chickens) is called “avian flu virus”: it does not usually infect humans, although some sporadic cases of bird flu occurred in Hong Kong in 1997 in people who had had direct contact with infected animals (breeders, slaughterers, and veterinarians).
Types of epidemics
A characteristic of influenza is the tendency of viruses to change their characteristics over time continuously: if the changes are profound in certain circumstances, there can be important consequences for the population which, having never encountered the new virus, is poorly immunized and get sick more easily. This phenomenon may coincide with the emergence in all age groups of major global epidemics, called “pandemics.”
Pandemics occur at unpredictable time intervals, and this century occurred in 1918 (Spanish, H1N1 subtype)), 1957 (Asian, H2N2 subtype), and 1968 (Hong Kong, H3N2 subtype). The most severe, the Spagnola, caused at least 20 million deaths. The appearance of a virus strain with radically new surface proteins is hardly enough to say that a pandemic has occurred.
But here are some characteristics of flu infections:
- pandemic: spread all over the world
- epidemic: widespread locally
- endemic: sporadic cases that occur all year round
- In the northern latitudes, it occurs in winter, in the southern ones, instead, in spring.
The first flu symptoms and treatment
The flu comes on suddenly, from one day to the next, without any warning symptoms. You begin to feel a sense of widespread malaise and feel weak. After the incubation period, which can last from one to 3 days, the first ailments typical of this seasonal disease arrive. The flu begins abruptly with the onset of high fever, which rapidly reaches its peak (39-40 ° C) within 12-24 hours, a sensation of cold and intense chills, with the typical sensation of “broken bones.” And there is also a headache, often accompanied by light discomfort (photophobia).
Age groups affected
School-age children play a central role in the spread of infection in the community. The increase in school absences is the early epidemiological sign of the onset of a flu epidemic. In newborns and infants, little specific symptoms prevail: it manifests itself with vomiting and diarrhea, often without fever.
The highest incidence of influenza is recorded in school-age children and adolescents. Simultaneously, it decreases with age, so much, so that attack rates are about four times lower in people over 60 than in groups younger than age. Influenza can have different characteristics in the elderly than in adults. At the onset, symptoms may be more subtle (especially after 70 years of age), with fever rarely exceeding 38 ° C, while behavioral disorders and neurological signs (sleepy state, mental confusion, dizziness, urinary, and fecal incontinence) prevail. Also a risk of accidental falls. The highest rates of hospital admission occur in children under the age of 5 or the elderly over the age of 65,
The seasons of the flu
In countries with a temperate climate, it usually comes during the winter or early spring. On the contrary, in tropical countries, the infection has an endemic trend, with epidemic episodes that occur even more than once a year. It has not yet been possible to explain the distinct seasonality of epidemic influenza: according to a reliable hypothesis, the reasons could be reintroducing the virus at each season and behavioral factors that influence its circulation (for example, the beginning of the school year and overcrowding). In the northern or northern hemisphere’s temperate countries, the flu spreads from October to April (with peaks between December and March), while in the Southern or Southern Hemisphere occurs from April to September-October.
According to some estimates, around 10 percent of the world’s population (500 million people) contract the infection annually during a typical flu season. In Italy, between two and a half million and three million people get sick every year. The frequency with which cases of influenza arise, although very different from epidemic to the epidemic, is around 10-20 percent of the general population. The epidemiological and virological surveillance system estimated an incidence in the general population of 5 percent. In contrast, in the age group 0-14, the most affected, the incidence was about 15 percent. During pandemics, the incidence can reach up to 50 percent of the general population.
The clinical diagnosis of influenza is not straightforward. In fact, there are numerous microorganisms (especially viruses but also bacteria) that can cause an acute pathology of the respiratory tract similar to the flu. The clinical definition, proposed by the World Health Organization, provides that the patient has the following manifestations: sudden onset of fever (equal to or greater than 39 ° C), muscle pain, and respiratory symptoms. This is a simple definition that allows us to narrow down the flu symptoms and treatment of numerous acute respiratory infections. From a practical point of view and the symptoms, it is important to monitor the local epidemiological trend of the infection, i.e., how many other influenza cases occur in the community.
Doctors usually diagnose influenza based on the patient’s symptoms and the physical examination during the visit. And the simultaneous finding of much other community causes. No other diagnostic tests are therefore necessary. If, however, the doctor suspects a complication of the flu, for example, pneumonia, he will order a series of tests, such as blood tests and chest X-rays.
When to see a doctor: Flu Symptoms And Treatment
You should contact your doctor in the following cases:
- if the flu affects a small child, an older adult, or a person with lung or heart disease
- if the fever rises above 39 ° C or if the fever, light or medium. It does not disappear within three days of starting
- if one or more of these symptoms occur: stiffening of the area between the nape and shoulder blades, difficulty breathing, cough, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, irregular blood circulation, especially in the ankles that appear swollen and with visible venous reticulum
- if the convalescence lasts for a long time and is accompanied by a cough and a feeling of exhaustion.
It is necessary to call the doctor if the flu belongs to one of the risk categories already listed (small children, the elderly, chronically ill). Therefore, there are concerns about possible complications. It is also advisable to consult your doctor in case of difficulty in breathing, chest pain, cough accompanied by greenish-yellow phlegm, particularly severe sore throat, or, in general if the disease continues after an initial improvement of more than a week or it tends to get worse.
When you get sick with the flu, it is good practice to follow some hygiene and behavioral rules:
- resting in bed, trying to avoid too dry a climate in the room (for example, using a humidifier)
- do not cover up too much, especially in case of a high fever, as this favors overheating of the body
- follow a light diet, but one that is sufficiently calorie
- maintain good hydration by drinking at least one liter of water a day, fruit juices, broth, and milk
- refrain from smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages.
Complications: Flu Symptoms And Treatment
Complications of the flu occur when the infection, rather than being limited to the upper respiratory tract, spreads to the bronchi and lungs. The most common complications are bronchitis and pneumonia, usually due to the intervention of ba Particularly fearful for the elderly. People who chronically suffer from respiratory or heart disease are pneumonia: its appearance increases hospitalization rates of 3-5 times among adults with high-risk conditions.
Two manifestations of pneumonia are associated with the flu: primary viral pneumonia and secondary pneumonia: sometimes, the two conditions can coexist. The most serious but also sporadic form of complication is fulminant pneumonia. At the end of the acute phase of the flu, instead of improving, the situation worsens, the person falls into a deep prostration and risks dying.
the influenza virus itself causes pneumonia Primary viral pneumonia. Most people hospitalized during epidemic periods due to this disease are over 40 years of age. In 40 percent of cases, they have no risk factors associated with complications, such as cardiopulmonary disease, rheumatic heart disease, neoplasms, organ transplants, and cytotoxic (substances that stop cell division), or steroid therapies, pregnancy, HIV infection.
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Patients present with flu syndrome followed by a persistent cough, tachypnea, and dyspnoea. Which can progress to adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The time interval between the onset of influenza and the onset of pulmonary symptoms is variable (from less than 1 day up to 20 days). Still, in most cases, severe respiratory failure occurs between the first and fourth day. In half of the cases, there is an abundant expectoration: the emission through the cough of the mucus produced. One-third of patients emit blood from the mouth (hemoptysis). However, assisted ventilation techniques have also made it possible to improve severe patients’ conditions. The mortality rate remains high: around 50 percent.
Secondary pneumonia: Flu Symptoms And Treatment
Influenza virus infection is often complicated by secondary bacterial pneumonia. A microbe causes this pneumonia manifestation: the most frequent culprit is Streptococcus pneumonia. Followed by Staphylococcus aureus (isolated in 25 percent of cases). In other cases, other microorganisms are responsible, such as Haemophilus influenza and Gram-negative bacilli. The signs of an onset bacterial infection may be the return of fever. The persistence of respiratory symptoms and a productive cough during the second week. With the development of pneumonia, the cough worsens, and sputum increases, purulent or bloody.
The flu can also cause aggravation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or deterioration in respiratory function in cystic fibrosis patients. In asthmatics, from 5 days before to 10 days after the onset of the flu, dyspnoea crises may appear Characterized by breathing difficulties and attributable to bronchial hyperreactivity.
Treating the flu
If no health problems exist, special flu symptoms and treatment are usually not prescribed. In cases of uncomplicated flu, therapy is usually used to control the main symptoms caused by flu viruses. It is also advisable to control the fever. It does not reach very high values (especially in young children); then, rapid and close febrisings must be avoided, leading to considerable losses of liquids. The most used drugs, antipyretics, and painkillers are symptomatic because they relieve the symptoms.
The use of cough medicines must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and must be considered. Especially when the cough is very persistent and such as to compromise (especially in children) nutrition and satisfactory sleep. Steam inhalations can relieve respiratory symptoms and prevent some of the problems induced by drying membranes and thickening secretions.
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The use of antibiotic therapy in the course of influenza should not be indiscriminate. But requires a reasoned evaluation by the doctor of various variables. Such as the patient’s age, the presence of concomitant diseases. That expose one to a risk of bacterial complications, and above all, a careful evaluation of the clinical picture. Signaled by the symptoms’ persistence and severity: for example, a high body temperature over 3-5 days. The appearance or increase of expectoration with purulent appearance, difficulty in breathing.
Prevention: Flu Symptoms And Treatment
The best prevention of influenza in the vaccine. But also for those who work in the community (for example, hospitals, retirement homes, schools) or who carry out public utility works (for example, firefighters and policemen).
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For those who don’t get the vaccine, here are some useful precautions during the outbreak:
- try to avoid contagion by keeping away, as far as possible, from crowded places: this is especially true for people at risk. Children, the elderly, heart and lung patients, or very debilitated subjects
- in the house change the air often
- try to keep the immune system efficient, with a diet rich in vitamins, trace elements, and minerals.