Flu (or influenza) is caused by virus which is transmitted by dispersed drops after coughing or sneezing (it is so-called droplet infection). The virus enters the upper part of the respiratory system through the nose or mouth and can spread to the lungs. Symptoms appear after an incubation period of one to two days. Influenza is usually epidemic disease, i.e. affects many people in the community in a period of time, usually in the winter and early spring. Some people mistakenly call even the slightest cold or an infection in the upper airway “influenza”.
The initial symptoms are chills and fever (sometimes up to 39 ° C), sneezing, headaches, muscle aches and sore throat. Usual following symptoms are dry, severe cough and pain in the chest. Cough loosens and your nose starts to leak. Fever generally lasts for two to three days, but nausea and lethargy will lasts few days after that. If there are no complications, which happens very rarely, you will completely recover in 7-14 days.
Epidemics occur at unpredictable intervals. Sometimes it may take five to six winters without significant epidemic, while sometimes two or three epidemics are affecting the same community in a single year. During the severe epidemic, most people in the affected area probably get at least a mild form of the disease. It can affect all age groups and both sexes. During the winter without a flu epidemic, only about one in 40 people asks the help of a doctor, while in the year when the epidemic occurs, medical attention seek at least ten times more people.
The epidemic disappears because anyone who’s got the flu caused by a particular type of virus becomes immune to another attack of the same microorganism. However, there are several strains of the influenza virus and new strains are constantly creating and spreading when patients are traveling from one place to another. New viruses are commonly referred to as the place of origin. So, we often talk about the Hong Kong flu, Asian flu, etc.
The main risk of influenza is the threat of spreading of the infection from the upper respiratory organs to the lungs, which will cause acute bronchitis or pneumonia, but these complications are rare. They will most likely occur among very young children, elderly people, heavy smokers, diabetic or people with chronic diseases in the chest. Only one in 1,000 cases (generally the elderly and sick people) ends in death.
What to do?
Influenza has to take its course, although you can ease the symptoms with the recommended measures in the next section (self-help). You do not have to see the doctor if you do not belong to a group of people who are very prone to complications or if you are the only person affected in a particular locality. In the apparently isolated case of flu symptoms may deceive you, and you may be suffering from some other disease. Therefore, your doctor refer you to a blood test to determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
Self-help: lie in bed as soon as the symptoms occur, and stay lying until your temperature returns to normal. Take plivalgin or paracetamol or aspirin, and drink lots of water or fruit juice. If the temperature lasts for longer than three to four days or if you breathe heavily while staying still, call a doctor. In any case, you have to expect that you will feel weak, and maybe even depressed about a week after the temperature drops, you need to rest as much as you can, and then gradually increase physical activity until you are fully healed.
Professional help: there is no specific cure for the flu because antibiotics are powerless against viruses. However, antibiotics are given if there are some complications, e.g. bacterial pneumonia, and they can take you at the hospital. Some doctors advise people who are at greatest risk of complications, such as the elderly people and diabetics, to be vaccinated annually against influenza. However, due to the many types of the virus, it is extremely difficult to predict which strain will cause the epidemic, therefore vaccination can not guarantee protection. At best, the vaccine would last for only one winter.