Influenza, commonly called the flu, is typically caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae. They affect the respiratory system of mammals and birds. Because it is a viral infection, it can be easily spread from person to person. Anyone is at risk for getting and spreading the flu, but young children, older adults, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems are more at risk for acquiring the flu.
The best way to avoid influenza is to get annual vaccination for influenza. Although they are both called the flu, influenza is different from stomach flu, which is gastroenteritis. Disclaimer: this article on influenza should not be used for medical diagnosis or medical advice. To learn how to treat influenza and other common conditions, enroll in First Aid Training.
Types of Influenza
Influenza viruses are divided into three types, called type A, type B and type C. The reason the world does not run out of viruses is cause they are constantly mutating. New strains occur when an existing flu spreads from humans to other animals species, which will then pick up new genes from a virus that typically affects other animals.
- Type A
- Most common in humans
- Causes seasonal epidemics, such as H1N1
- Frequent antigenic changes
- Type B
- Causes seasonal epidemics
- Type C
- Causes mild respiratory illnesses or may even be asymptomatic
Causes of Influenza
Influenza is passed on from people through the air byaerosols that contain the virus.This can be transmitted to another person by having direct contact. Direct contact usually occurs by:
- Talking, coughing or sneezing
- Nasal secretions
- Touching contaminated surface such as counters, telephones or computer keyboards
- Bird droppings
Symptoms of Influenza
Flus are known to generate signs and symptoms that slightly similar to the common cold, but are generally worse. The common signs and symptoms of influenza are the following:
- Fever (over 38°C or 100°F)
- Severe headache
- Common cold with runny nose
- Sweating and chills
- Sore throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pains, especially in the arms, legs and back
- Weakness and fatigue
- In serious cases, pneumonia
First Aid Management for Influenza
Most people who get the flu become fully recovered in a week or two, but
sometimes, the disease can progress into potentially fatal complications. The key to avoiding complications in an otherwise healthy individual is constant treatment and following some tips that have proven to be effective.
- Take plenty of bed rest. Do not force self to engage in any straining activity.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Take warm showers and place warm compresses in the nasal area to minimize aching body muscles and nasal congestion
- For people with fever, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Antibiotics will not work for the flu. Doctors may sometimes recommend oseltamivir or zanamivir.
Not all cases of influenza are severe but when one experiences trouble breathing, skin discoloration, severe vomiting, confusion, or having high-grade fever, call for emergency medical services.