The influenza virus is a very contagious infection and affects the nose, throat, and the lungs. It can be easily spread through contact of fine droplets, especially from coughing and sneezing. The flu can cause particularly severe symptoms and even progress into life-threatening complications in young children, elderly and pregnant women. It is currently estimated that the influenza virus contributes to over three thousand deaths in Australia every year.
We are always surrounded by viruses, including the ones which can cause illnesses such as influenza. As with all viruses, the influenza virus possesses the ability to change; therefore even if you’ve already had the flu before there is no guarantee your immune system will be able to prevent you from getting the flu again. The virus usually occurs in epidemics, typically during the colder seasons.
Symptoms Of The Influenza Virus
The flu often presents with the following common symptoms;
- Sudden onset of a high fever (anything more than 37°C)
- Dry coughing
- Runny nose
- Feelings of body aches and pains
- Feeling lethargic
Some more serious symptoms include;
- Pain behind the eyes
- A loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting in children
This condition is often easily confused with the common cold; however, a cold will not present with feelings of excess fatigue or weakness as seen with the influenza virus. If the infection worsens, it can spread to the lungs and cause conditions such as bronchitis or pneumonia. This is usually seen in elderly patients, heavy smokers, asthma patients or those with poor overall health.
Treatment Of The Influenza Virus
As the condition is caused by a virus, antibiotics can’t help. Many treatment options for the flu focus on managing the symptoms, such as the high temperature, coughing, and sneezing.
Pain relief medication can be taken to reduce pain and fever, including paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin. Otherwise, there are readymade cold or flu preparations which are available from pharmacies. These can contain;
- Pain relief medication
- Decongestants, to help with blocked and stuffy noses
- Antihistamines, to help with sneezing or runny noses
- Cough suppressants
Depending on the formulation which is used in the cold or flu preparation, the side effects can vary.
Self-care is also advised, and the following tips may help you feel better when down with the flu;
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking lots of liquids, especially when feeling sweaty or feverish.
- Eating light and bland food only when you feel hungry
Make sure that you see your doctor if;
- The symptoms don’t improve within a week
- The symptoms occur in children under the age of twelve years, in elderly, or in those who have poor heart and lung health
- You have a very high fever of over 40°C or more
It is important to understand that by being vaccinated, your chances of becoming ill with the flu decrease. In Australia, the influenza vaccine is free for anyone who is over the age of sixty-five years old, pregnant, or those who have long-term health issues.