Influenza or the FLU
Fever, body pains, cold, cough and generalized weakness
Influenza or the FLU is a viral illness characterized by fever, body pains, cold, cough and generalized weakness. It is very contagious and can easily spread from one to another through spread of cough droplets or from close contacts.
Generally a flu episode is self limiting, and with rest and some symptomatic pain and fever medicines most people recover. But in certain cases, it can be severe. In children below 4 years, pregnant women and in the elderly ( those over 65 years )and those who are already weak due to other illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, cancers, heart disease and diabetes, the flu can have a deadly toll.
Influenza is caused by the influenza virus. These seasonal virus circulate and cause disease in humans every year and in Sri Lanka it is generally observed during April to June and again in November to January. The common ones in Sri Lanka at present are Influenza A which includes subtype H1N1 and others, as well as Influenzae B. All of them produce similar illness pattern and are equally contagious. Each year the one subtype may predominant.
Symptoms of Flu
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pains, headaches
- Occasionally vomiting and diarrhea
- Normally symptoms appear 4 to 7 days after exposure.
- Usually symptoms last for about 4 to 7 days but fatigue can persist for 2 to 3 weeks.
What to do If You Have Flu Symptoms
Plenty of rest at home is essential and eat normally and drink plenty of fluids. It is best to avoid contact with others, and avoid school and work for 5 to 7 days. A person is contagious and can transmit the virus from the 1 day before the symptoms start, and up to 5-7 days.
If symptoms are severe or if there is difficulty breathing or severe weakness see your Family Doctor and have yourself checked. The doctor will usually prescribe paracetamol for fever and symptomatic relieve for the coughs and cold.
Treatment of influenza
Generally symptomatic treatment is given for fever, pain and cold. However, in those with severe attack or in those who are elderly, or immunocompromised, an antiviral medication can be given.
How to Prevent Influenza
Avoid contact with those with the illness. Those who have the illness can prevent the spread by covering their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and washing their hands frequently. The best way to avoid flu is by getting a flu vaccination. This vaccination has to be repeated every year as the virus can mutate over time and further protection has to be rendered through updated vaccines yearly. This is especially important for those at high risk as mentioned above and those who are planning to become pregnant or are already pregnant.
Pregnancy and Influenza
Pregnant women are more likely to develop a severe illness due to the flu. Changes in the immune system, the heart and lungs during pregnancy, makes them prone to more complications. Flu during pregnancy can also cause serious problems for the developing baby, such as premature labour and delivery.
Early treatment is essential for pregnant women. If flu is suspected, treatment with antiviral medication has to be started immediately. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is safe to be given to pregnant women and should be started by their doctor within 48 hours of the illness. This has the ability to limit the illness to a milder course and reduce the chances of complications
The flu vaccination is the best protection for pregnant women as well as those who are planning to become pregnant. This vaccination is safe to be given even during pregnancy and protects the mother and the baby from flu for several months after birth as well.
- Dr. Kayathri Periasamy
Consultant Physician at Healthy Life Clinic
BOARD CERTIFICATE IN INT.MEDICINE (U.S.A)-1997 OSTGRAD D.IP.IN DIABETES CARE (NEW CASTEL, AUSTRALIA) 18-17-2003 / MRCP (UK)