Winter is almost upon us but it’s not just a warm and cosy period where you can enjoy fluffy doonas, woollen socks and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. It can also mean an annoying case of the sniffles, and unfortunately for many, a case of the dreaded flu.
With the horror flu season experienced last year and numbers continuing to rise even at this early stage, it’s no wonder that medical professionals are on high alert – as you should be as well. But what are the common flu symptoms and treatment options?
What Is The Flu?
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from person to person and causes widespread sickness every year. Influenza is most often caused by type A or B influenza viruses that infect the lungs and upper airways and in temperate regions, it normally occurs seasonally.
The flu is not the same as a common cold, and it can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications including pneumonia if not managed, particularly in young children, the elderly and in those with underlying medical conditions. It is estimated that the flu contributes to over 3,000 deaths in Australia each year, and so far in 2018, there have been over 1600 confirmed cases of the flu in Queensland.
How Do You Catch The Flu?
The flu is normally spread from person to person by droplets spreading from an infected person when they talk, sneeze or cough, or by touching surfaces contaminated by infected droplets and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose. Those who have the flu are normally infectious to others from 24 hours before the flu symptoms start until a week after they start.
How Do I Know If I Have The Flu?
Flu symptoms usually appear one to three days after you have become infected and the most common symptoms are:
- a dry cough
- a headache
- body aches (especially in the lower back and legs)
- the sudden appearance of a high fever of 38 °C or more
- feeling extremely weak and tired
Other symptoms of the flu can also include:
- a sore throat
- loss of appetite
- aching behind the eyes
- a runny nose
Children can also have gastrointestinal symptoms (like vomiting and diarrhoea), and in the elderly, a fever may be absent but other signs like a shortness of breath and the worsening of a chronic condition may be present.
Regardless of your age, it’s important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms:
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- sudden dizziness
- severe vomiting
- a fever with a rash
- a fever over 38 °C that is not improving
Whether you actually have the flu or not can be confirmed by your doctor after they have done a nose or throat swab that has returned a positive result.
How Long Does The Flu Last?
Flu symptoms can often strike very quickly, may last for several weeks and typically follow a pattern. Days one to three normally involve the appearance of a headache, fever, a dry cough, a sore throat and muscle pains. By around day four the fever and muscle aches should have subsided, however, a sore throat, cough and possible chest discomfort may become more noticeable. By day eight symptoms have normally decreased further although a cough and general tiredness may last a week or two more.
In some cases, complications like pneumonia and bronchitis can develop, which can involve hospitalisation and even death. People at a higher risk of developing these include pregnant women, people over 65, children younger than five years of age, people with chronic medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
What Are The General Treatment Options For The Flu?
If you are in good health, you probably don’t need to see your doctor for the flu as your immune system should fight the infection and your symptoms should usually clear up on their own.
The flu can generally be managed by getting rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking recommended over-the-counter medications like pain relievers and decongestants to relieve symptoms. Anti-viral medications if taken in the first two days after your symptoms start can shorten the length of your illness, however, they will need to be prescribed by your doctor.
Antibiotics generally aren’t an effective flu treatment as the flu is a virus and antibiotics are designed to fight bacteria, however, your doctor may prescribe them if you develop a bacterial infection along with your flu.
Can I Avoid The Flu?
There are a number of preventative measures you can take to reduce your likelihood of getting the flu. These include:
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water and before you touch your nose, eyes and mouth
- Using a tissue or the inside of your arm when you cough or sneeze
- Throwing tissues away immediately and washing your hands thoroughly
- Not sharing items with others that have come into contact with their mouth or nose
- Staying at least a metre away from those who have flu-like symptoms
- Cleaning frequently-touched surfaces regularly
Immunisation is the most effective way of avoiding the flu and is recommended for all individuals over six months of age and for those in the high-risk categories. The flu vaccine helps to build your immunity to the virus and prevents you from transmitting it to other people.
Vaccination is required annually because the vaccine changes each year to reflect the virus strains that have circulated across the world in the last 12 months.
The vaccine won’t actually give you a dose of the flu because it doesn’t contain any live virus, however, some people may experience mild flu-like symptoms for up to 48 hours afterwards as their immune systems respond to the vaccine.
What Is My Best Treatment Option?
Queensland Health is working hard to prevent a repeat of last year’s ‘horror’ flu season. Around 300,000 children under five will be eligible for free immunisation at GP’s and immunisation providers, and two new flu vaccines will also be available for free to more than three million Australians over 65.
Although the number of flu cases so far in 2018 is higher than in previous years, it is still too early to tell if this season will be worse than in previous years. Regardless, influenza is always dangerous and is constantly mutating and changing. The basic message is – get vaccinated every year and take your GP’s advice on when the best time to do this is. Although not 100% effective, the flu vaccine is the best way of protecting yourself and therefore others against the flu.
Need some advice about the best time to get your flu shot? Contact us today on (07) 3711 2880 to book your professional consultation.