Influenza is an acute respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses that circulate throughout the world. There are four types of influenza: A, B, C and D. Seasonal epidemics are caused by types A and B. According to WHO estimates, annual outbreaks lead to 3-5 million cases of severe disease, and up to 650 thousand patients die. In developed countries, most deaths from influenza occur in the elderly, 65 years of age or older.
What is the difference between influenza and other acute respiratory viral infections?
Almost all diseases that are called “colds” are caused by various viruses. There are more than two hundred of them – rhinoviruses, adenoviruses and even seasonal coronaviruses (not to be confused with SARS-CoV-2).
Among acute respiratory infections, influenza stands out as it has more severe symptoms and poses a serious danger to patients at risk: the elderly, patients with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and children.
Flu symptoms are almost like a cold, but there are nuances
The main difference between influenza and other respiratory infections is that its symptoms appear suddenly and literally “cover” the head. If with a common cold everything starts with a slight malaise, and then other symptoms appear on the rise, then with the flu everything is not so. An hour ago you felt like a healthy person, and suddenly you literally fall off your feet.
Influenza can also present with the following symptoms:
- severe muscle pain;
- sore throat;
- tiredness and severe weakness;
The flu is most painful for the first 3-4 days, then the symptoms gradually subside. For most healthy people, the flu clears up in 7-10 days, but it may take 1-2 weeks for full recovery.
How is flu diagnosed?
Usually, doctors determine the flu by clinical symptoms, since there are enough of them in order to make an accurate diagnosis. In addition, seasonality matters: the peak incidence of influenza occurs in late autumn and winter, and decreases in spring.
Since influenza viruses circulate all year round, they can be caught even during the height of summer. During periods of low influenza activity, other respiratory infections sometimes manifest as influenza-like illness, which can make diagnosis difficult. In such cases, the doctor may prescribe a laboratory test, but this is rarely used in Russian clinical practice.
Pharmacy chains offer a fairly large selection of rapid tests for the determination of influenza viruses, but alas, their accuracy leaves much to be desired.
How is flu treated?
In general, a healthy person needs only supportive and symptomatic treatment: bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, antipyretic and pain relievers.
Unfortunately, in Russia, numerous “fuflomycins” are actively imposed to fight influenza and SARS, but alas, almost all of them have no proven effectiveness. Therefore, if a doctor prescribes Arbidol or Ergoferon for you, it is better to ignore these recommendations.
However, antiviral drugs may indeed be required in patients at high risk of complications. The WHO and the FDA recommend neuraminidase inhibitors (for example, oseltamivir, aka Tamiflu) to such patients.
All circulating influenza viruses steady to antiviral drugs of the adamantane class (for example, rimantadine), so it is useless to take them. Also, antibiotics are not recommended for influenza because they only kill bacteria and are ineffective against viral infections. The doctor can prescribe antibiotics only if a bacterial infection is attached.
How can you protect yourself from the flu?
In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle – plenty of fresh air, regular physical activity, a balanced diet – all those measures that have become relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic will help protect against influenza. Masks, frequent hand washing and staying away from coughs are simple.
But the surest way to avoid getting sick is getting vaccinated. The flu vaccine, like any other, does not protect against infection by 100%, but it significantly reduces the risk of severe illness and death. According to the latest data, if a vaccinated adult does get sick and is admitted to the hospital for the flu, he is 26% less likely to be treated in an intensive care unit and 31% less likely to die. In addition, these patients recover faster.
This year, the flu vaccine is especially relevant, because, according to experts, a new epidemic awaits us, so the risk of simultaneous infection with COVID-19 is significantly increasing. Data on how patients cope with this “double whammy” is still limited. But most likely, two serious infections will not benefit anyone.