Influenza or flu is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system – the lungs, throat, or nose. It is usually called the flu, but it is different from stomach flu viruses that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. For a lot of people, it resolves on its own. But there are times that the illness and its various complications can be pretty dangerous, or worse, deadly. People that are at higher risk of developing influenza complications include:

Young kids under age five, and babies under twelve months old

Adults 65 years old and older

Residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes

Pregnant women, as well as women that are one to two weeks postpartum

Individuals with weak immune systems

Individuals with chronic illnesses, like asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease

People who are morbidly obese, or with a BMI or a body mass index of 40 or higher

Although the yearly influenza vaccine is not 100% effective, it is still the best way to defend against influenza.

Symptoms

Initially, influenza seems like common colds partnered with a runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing. But common colds usually develop gradually, whereas influenza tends to come instantly. And although it can be a nuisance, people generally feel a lot worse with the flu. Listed below are some common symptoms of influenza.

Fever over 38 degrees Celsius or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit

Sore throat

Nasal congestion

Weakness and fatigue

Dry and persistent cough

Headache

Sweats and chills

Aching muscles

When to see a medical expert or professional

A lot of people who get the influenza virus can treat themselves at home and usually do not need to see a physician. If you have the symptoms or are at risk of complications, see a medical professional immediately. Taking antiviral medications may reduce the length of the illness and prevent a more serious problem.

Causes

These viruses travel via air droplets when infected individuals cough, talk, or sneezes. Individuals can inhale these droplets directly or pick up these viruses from objects like a computer keyboard or telephone, and transfer them to their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Individuals with the infection are most likely contagious for a couple of days before the first appearance of the symptoms until about five to seven days after symptoms start to appear. Kids, infants, or people with a weak immune system may be contagious for a longer time. These types of viruses are always changing, with brand new strains popping out regularly. If a person has had the flu in the past, their body has already created antibodies to fight the regular strain of the influenza virus.

If future viruses are similar to those that they have encountered before, either by contracting the disease or through vaccination, the antibodies may lessen the severity or prevent the infection. But antibodies against influenza viruses that people encountered in the past cannot protect them from new strains that can be different immunologically from what they had before.

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Risk factors

Factors that can increase people’s risk of developing flu or its complications may include:

Age – Seasonal flu tends to affect kids younger than 12 months or adults 65 years old and older

Living and working conditions – Individuals who work or live in care facilities with other residents (nursing care homes or military barracks) are more likely to develop this disease. Individuals who are in hospitals are also at high risk of contracting it.

People with weak immune systems – Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, blood cancer, organ transplant, regular use of steroids, anti-rejection medications, or cancer treatments can weaken the immune system. It can make it a lot easier for the body to get flu and can also help increase the risk of developing any complications that comes with it.

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Chronic illnesses – Severe or chronic conditions that include asthma, neurodevelopmental or neurological disease, heart disease, diabetes, airway abnormality, kidney liver, and blood disease can also increase the risk of getting the flu and the complications that come with it.

If you are healthy and young, seasonal flu usually is not serious. Although people may still feel miserable while having it, the flu often goes away in seven to fourteen days with no serious lasting effects. But infants, kids, and adults that are considered high-risk individuals may develop complications like pneumonia, asthma flare-ups, ear infections, heart problems, and asthma flare-ups. Pneumonia is considered as the most serious complications. For older people with chronic illnesses, it can be very deadly.