Globally, around 3 million people catch severe influenza every year, out of which around 250,000 to 650,000 die. In most people, influenza is self-limiting and does not cause harm. However, some people have weaker immune systems and can develop pneumonia, a severe lung infection. The good news is, you can reduce your risk of catching the flu by using simple preventive measures. Here’s everything you need to know about influenza (WHO, 2020).
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a very common respiratory infection affecting millions of people around the world.
Flu viruses love the respiratory tract. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the tiny viruses travel through the air. If you pass by at that very moment, you can inhale the droplets. The flu virus can also be transmitted by touching infected objects and transferring them to your mouth or eyes.
As disheartening as it may sound, influenza can have deadly consequences in patients with weaker immune systems. Pneumonia is a respiratory condition caused by a severe lung infection. It involves the inflammation of air sacs called alveoli which become filled with pus and cannot, therefore, allow oxygen to reach the body. It can be caused by the flu virus but also by superinfection with bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Influenza is caused by a virus belonging to the Orthomyxoviridae family of viruses.
There are three main types of flu viruses. The table below summarizes all the important facts about the most common types.
Influenza can present in multiple ways. The most common signs and symptoms of influenza are:
The diagnosis of influenza is usually made based on clinical presentation. While some countries also offer confirmatory tests, other countries only rely on clinical diagnosis. The investigations for influenza include:
The rapid strep test will help your doctor differentiate between a bacterial and a viral cause. This is important because their treatment regimens also differ.
A Rapid Antigen Detection Test will help your doctor identify the causative organism. The sample is usually collected by a throat swab and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
In severe circumstances, your clinician will want to order a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia.
The mainstay treatment for influenza is supportive care with hydration and antipyretics to bring down the fever. Patients who are at high risk of severe disease may require antiviral medications such as oseltamivir and zanamivir.
The best way to manage influenza is to prevent it. If you feel that you are at an increased risk of developing severe influenza, you can protect yourself by applying simple preventive measures.
To minimize your risk of catching the flu virus, avoid close contact with people presenting with cough, sneeze and fever.
You can purchase protective masks at your local drugstore.
Always cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. This will prevent you from spreading it to those around you.
Maintaining proper hand hygiene will not only prevent you from catching the virus but will also prevent you from spreading it to others.
Get yourself vaccinated if you are at high risk of developing serious flu complications. You can get the annual flu vaccine at your local hospital, area health center or community health center.
You can also consult your doctor to enquire about the need for annual flu shots. The CDC recommends annual flu shots to anyone above 6 months of age unless there are contraindications (CDC, 2020). If you have any known medical condition, especially egg allergy or a state of immunosuppression, you must consult a doctor before getting the vaccine.
In December 2019, healthcare workers in China noticed the emergence of a strange flu virus, but little did they know that this was about to change their lives forever. It was in January 2020 that the epidemic started to spread rapidly across China. A few weeks later, the whole world was affected and it was declared a global health emergency by the WHO. This novel strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) emerged from the city of Wuhan in China.
Today this novel virus has killed over 2,100 people. More than 75,000 cases have already been registered in mainland China with around 9,000 in severe conditions (WHO, 2020).