Influenza is an acute infection of the respiratory tract, caused by viral influenza A or B. The infection can affect the upper and lower respiratory tract.
The most common symptoms are:
-body aches (myalgia)
It typically occurs during the winter, and the virus is spread through inhalation of infected respiratory secretions.
The flu is different from the common cold and symptoms usually present suddenly. Most people will recover after several days to two weeks, but some people will experience more serious complications that may even require hospitalization.
Common complications of the flu include:
middle ear and sinus infections
Less common, more serious complications include:
-myocarditis (inflammation of the heart)
-encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
-myositis (inflammation of muscle)
In addition, people with chronic medical problems, such as asthma, can experience exacerbations of these conditions as a result of the flu.
Each year, there are very subtle changes in the proteins that make up the seasonal flu virus, and this is the reason new vaccines are required. The vaccine comes in an intranasal (inhaled) form or an injection. Because of poor efficacy in the previous two flu seasons, the intranasal vaccine was not recommended for 2016-17.
For children between 6 months and 8 years of age who have had 2 or more doses of the flu-vaccine BEFORE July 1, 2016, they will only need to have ONE dose this year. The two doses DO NOT have to be in the same season. For those who are under 8 years of age who never have been vaccinated against the flu, 2 vaccines separated by at least 1 month are recommended.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual flu-vaccine for all people 6 months and older, but especially those with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart-disease, immunosuppression, or neurodevelopmental disorder. Children under 2 years of age are at an increased risk of hospitalization and complications due to influenza.
What you can do if you think you have the flu:
Influenza can be treated with antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu, and this is most effective if treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. The medication can be difficult to tolerate, as common side-effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache. If these symptoms develop as a result of starting Tamiflu, supportive measures should be stressed instead, such as encouraging fluid intake and using Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen (NOT Aspirin) for fever or pain-relief. Infants with influenza may present with lethargy and poor oral intake, and it is extremely important to make sure they are well-hydrated by checking their urine output (wet diapers). Rapid, heavy breathing could be related to a high fever, but also could be a sign of a lower respiratory tract infection, and medical evaluation then is strongly advised.
Influenza is a bad bug, and until you or a loved one is infected, you may not realize just how bad. While the vaccine is never a guarantee you won’t get infected, it does offer safe protection during the winter months. The new year just started, and it’s not too late.