Truth about Cold & Flu

Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness that results from a viral infection.

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As the C-19 outbreak continues to evolve, we often come across patients who are drawing comparisons between the virus and influenza.  While winter is setting in, a sharp rise in the incidence of respiratory infections is noticed, the milder of which are popularly described as “colds” and the more severe as “flu.” These are caused by quite different viruses. 

What is flu?

Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness that results from a viral infection. It is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets. It caused by the influenza viruses that affect the nose, throat and sometimes lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and the best way to prevent this is taking a routine flu vaccination.

However, flu is spread largely by droplet (aerosol) infection from individuals with a high viral level in their nasal and throat secretions, sneezing and coughing on anyone close at hand. The aerosol droplets of the “right” size (thought to be about 1.5 micrometers in diameter) remain airborne and are breathed into the nose or lungs of the next person. Children are more likely to catch flu. 

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Symptoms of flu

Flu is characterised by the sudden onset of feverishness, with a sore throat and nasal discharge, chills, headache, muscle aches and loss of appetite, usually with fever of 100-104° Fahrenheit. Over the next few days, the general symptoms may improve but the local symptoms (sore throat, cough) get worse. It takes about five to seven days or up to two weeks or even longer to recover. Flu can lead to bronchitis, viral or bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

Preventing seasonal flu

The first step is to get a flu vaccine each year. This has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of complications. There has been a surge in flu vaccination in the current pandemic. If you are scared of visiting the hospital, home vaccination services are available too. Usually it is recommended to take a flu vaccine just before the advent of rainy season, however due to the changing geography and climatic conditions, another peak is seen in autumn and winter too.  

Summer months are too early to get vaccinated as the protective effect of the vaccination may start to taper off till flu season begins. Hence getting a vaccine towards the middle and end of October and in November is recommended. It could reduce your risk of contracting the illness by 40-60 per cent and also brings down the severity of the disease if you do get sick. 

Preventive Tips 

– Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep distance from others.
– If possible, stay home when you are sick. 
– Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and C-19, are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
– Wash your hands often. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. 

– Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
– Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
– Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

By Dr. Syed Tajamul
The author is senior consultant, pediatrics, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bellandur, Bengaluru.

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