What is the flu and why should we take it seriously?
What is the flu? How does it spread? What are the cures? Find out everything you need to know about flu symptoms right here...
Although frequently confused with the common cold, influenza or ‘the flu’ is a completely different illness. The flu symptoms are more severe and lasts longer than a cold.
It is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs) and is caused by the influenza virus.
The flu is also confused with the stomach flu, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. Influenza does not cause these two symptoms.
The influenza virus has three main types of viruses – types A, B and C. According to the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH), the virus types A and B occur as annual outbreaks and epidemics, while type C is less severe and could occur periodically.
The flu could be life-threatening to certain people who are at a higher risk of developing complications. More details on this later-on.
Common flu symptoms
The flu symptoms appear quite suddenly, as opposed to a cold where the symptoms would appear gradually.
Early signs of the flu include a sore throat, headache, runny or blocked nose and sneezing.
Other symptoms like tiredness, body aches, moderate to high fever and chills are also common with the flu.
How does the flu spread?
The flu spreads quite rapidly and easily through direct contact. When an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets of saliva and mucous fly into the air.
These droplets are minute enough to be inhaled and could infect the person who inhales it.
The virus could also spread through touch. For example, your child could get the flu when she touches toys that have been touched by an infected child and then touches her own eyes, nose or mouth.
If you have gotten a certain strain of the flu in the recent past or have been vaccinated for it, then your body might be immune to that particular strain.
However there are several ‘sub-types’ of the virus to which you may not have immunity to.
Who’s at a higher risk of developing complications?
Although most healthy children and adults recover from the flu with minimum medication, there are a few people who are at a higher risk of developing complications.
These are adults over the age of 65, babies and young children, pregnant mothers, sick people and those with compromised immune systems such as HIV, asthma and cancer patients.
What are the complications of the flu?
Sometimes the flu could lead to bacterial infections such as bronchitis, ear infections, sinus infections and pneumonia. Pneumonia can be life threatening to older adults and those who are sickly.
Those with a higher risk of developing complications should talk to their doctor about getting the flu vaccine.
When should you see the doctor?
If your child has the flu, keep her away from school, let her get plenty of rest and give her plenty of fluids to drink.
If you have a baby and suspect he has the flu, it is best to show him to the pediatrician as soon as possible. The same goes for others in the higher-risk category.
Doctors will examine the patient and check their symptoms. On occasion they may request a blood sample.
If you see your doctor early, he may prescribe an anti-viral medication that will reduce the severity of the infection.
Incubation and infectious period
The symptoms would take around 1-4 days to materialise, and one would be infectious from the onset of the symptoms up to 2 weeks.
The flu vaccine is recommended for those with a high-risk of developing complications. According to the MOH with effect from 1st January 2014, those in this high-risk category can use Medisave for influenza vaccinations.
The MOH recommends that the caretakers of those in the high-risk category get vaccinated as well.
If you notice flu symptoms, here are some practical tips to prevent catching and spreading the flu:
- Follow good hygiene practices. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
- If you have the flu, wear a surgical mask. If you are around someone who is infected, cover your nose and mouth and turn away when this person coughs or sneezes.
- Avoid crowded places when you have the flu. Do the same to avoid getting the flu during flu season.