Influenza: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Influenza Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options -RTTC

The onset of influenza symptoms can often mimic those of other respiratory illnesses, which can make it challenging for your healthcare provider to diagnose your condition. 

Here’s a closer look at this illness.  

What is influenza? 

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory system infection caused by influenza viruses.  

What are the symptoms of influenza? 

Common symptoms of influenza include the following: 

  • Fever 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Chills 
  • Headache 
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Fatigue 
  • Runny or stuffy nose 
  • Sore throat 
  • Eye pain 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 

Compared to a common cold, flu symptoms develop rapidly, and you may experience it more intensely. Also, vomiting and diarrhea are more prevalent in children than in adults when infected with the influenza virus.  

These symptoms last for about one to two weeks, although fatigue and weakness may persist for longer. 

What causes influenza?  

The cause of influenza can be traced back to a viral infection affecting the respiratory system. Influenza viruses are primarily responsible for causing flu in humans, namely: 

  • Influenza A 
  • Influenza B 
  • Influenza C 
  • Influenza D   

These viruses are highly contagious and are spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Once you inhale these droplets, the virus will invade your respiratory tract. 

Influenza viruses can mutate rapidly, creating new strains each flu season. This mutation makes it challenging for the immune system to recognize and combat the virus effectively, leading to frequent flu outbreaks.  

Certain factors can increase your risk of contracting influenza, like the following: 

  • Having close contact with infected individuals 
  • Being in crowded environments 
  • Having a compromised immune system 

Influenza A vs. Influenza B 

Influenza A viruses are known for their ability to infect a wide range of hosts, including humans, birds and other animals, leading to more severe and widespread flu epidemics. On the other hand, Influenza B viruses primarily affect humans and cause milder flu symptoms compared to Influenza A. 

In terms of genetic diversity, Influenza A viruses have various subtypes based on two proteins on their surface: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).  

This allows for frequent antigenic changes through antigenic drift and shift. This genetic variability is why seasonal flu vaccines need regular updates to provide effective protection. 

In contrast, Influenza B viruses have a more stable genetic makeup so there are fewer antigenic changes. This makes it easier to predict and target with vaccines. 

Influenza A and Influenza B treatment 

The treatment for both Influenza A and Influenza B focuses on symptom management and supportive care. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral drugs, such as: 

  • Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) 
  • Zanamivir (Relenza) 
  • Peramivir (Rapivab) 

These medications can help shorten the duration of the illness and reduce the severity of symptoms if started early in the course of the infection, especially when taken within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. 

Your healthcare provider may also prescribe other medications, such as: 

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers 
  • Fever reducers  
  • Cough syrups 

Early antiviral treatment is recommended for those who are at high risk of complications, such as:  

  • Young children 
  • Older adults 
  • Pregnant individuals 
  • With underlying medical conditions 

If you have the flu, here’s what you should do: 

  • Rest  
  • Stay hydrated 
  • Monitor your symptoms  

Seek medical attention promptly if symptoms worsen to prevent severe complications associated with influenza. 

How do you prevent influenza 

How do you prevent influenza? 

To reduce the risk of influenza infection and its associated complications, make sure to arrange an annual flu vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for individuals aged 6 months and older since studies show that it can reduce its role in reducing the risk of serious illness and hospitalization. 

Also, practice good hygiene habits to help prevent the spread of the flu virus. These include: 

  • Washing hands frequently 
  • Avoiding touching the face 
  • Covering coughs and sneezes 
  • Cleaning surfaces regularly 
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people 
  • Staying home when feeling unrwell  

Frequently asked questions 

Can pets get influenza from humans? 

Pets cannot get influenza from humans. Influenza viruses are typically species-specific, meaning they infect only a particular animal species. However, some viruses like H1N1 and H3N2 have been reported to infect both humans and certain animals. 

Is there a connection between influenza and mental health issues? 

While influenza primarily affects the respiratory system, research suggests a connection between influenza and mental health issues. The stress of dealing with flu symptoms and complications can exacerbate existing mental health conditions or trigger new ones. 

Are there any natural remedies that can help alleviate influenza symptoms? 

There are natural remedies like rest, hydration, steam inhalation and honey for soothing influenza symptoms. However, consult your healthcare provider before trying alternative treatments to ensure they are safe and effective for your condition. 

Can influenza vaccines cause side effects in some individuals? 

Influenza vaccines can cause mild side effects in some individuals such as soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever or muscle aches. Serious reactions are rare but possible. Consult your healthcare provider for guidance. 

How does climate change impact the spread and severity of influenza outbreaks? 

Climate change can impact influenza by altering virus transmission patterns and increasing the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Changes in temperature, humidity and precipitation can influence virus survival, migration of infected vectors and human behavior, which all affect disease spread. 

Key takeaway 

Influenza is a serious respiratory infection caused by viral agents, with the potential for severe complications, particularly in vulnerable populations. To protect yourself from it, take the time to understand its symptoms, causes and treatment options. Take an annual influenza vaccination to prevent dire flu outcomes, especially if you’re at heightened risk. 

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