Influenza: Symptoms, Type, Diagnosis, Treatment, Complications and Prevention

Influenza, also known as

Updated: August 17, 2020

Influenza, also known as "the flu", is is a respiratory illness caused by an influenza virus. It is an infectious disease and is normally spread by the coughs and sneezes of an infected person.

Symptoms of Flu:

Often Flu and the common cold are confused as both of them have symptoms including a runny/blocked nose, sore throat, and cough. Flu symptoms are usually worse than a cold and last longer. To differentiate between a bad cold and flu you need to look for the below symptoms:

  • Body or muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling  less hungry than usual
  • Feeling tied

Some gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are much more common among children than adults. It usually takes 1 to 4 days to get symptoms of the flu after you are infected and it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get completely better.

Types of Flu Virus:

There are three types of flu viruses namely influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C. Types A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics every winter that occurs in the United States and Europe virtually. The type C influenza virus causes mild respiratory illness and is not responsible for outbreaks. Usually, the virus is spread through the air from coughs or sneezes mostly over relatively short distances. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces by the virus and then touching your mouth or eyes. 

Some examples of flu caused by influenza A virus are:

  • H1N1, which caused Spanish Flu in 1918
  • H1N1, which caused Swine Flu in 2009
  • H2N2, which caused Asian Flu in 1957
  • H3N2, which caused Hong Kong Flu in 1968
  • H5N1, which caused Bird Flu in 2004

Diagnosis of Flu:

By physical examination and analyzing the symptoms, the doctor will diagnose the flu. To find out what type of flu virus you have, the doctor may do a blood test or take a sample of fluid from your nose or throat.

Treatment of Flu:

As flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not used for the treatment, unless the flu has led to another illness caused by bacteria. Painkillers or paracetamol can relieve some of the symptoms, such as headache and body pains. Antivirals, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), may be prescribed in some cases. People with the flu are advised to

  • stay at home and take  rest
  • avoid contact with other people as much as possible
  • consume plenty of liquids
  • stop smoking
  • avoid alcohol

Complications of Flu:

Flu is not serious in the majority of cases. But flu can worsen chronic health problems in a few cases. People with emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or asthma may experience shortness of breath while they have the flu. Influenza may cause a worsening of coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. People over 65 years old, pregnant women, very young children, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions are more likely to get complications from influenzas, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus, and ear infections.

Prevention of Flu:


Get a yearly flu vaccine to help prevent flu. There are two types of vaccinations that include the flu shot and the nasal spray flu vaccine.
The flu shot is given with a needle, usually in the arm. It is suitable for anyone older than 6 months, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that you breathe in through your nose.

You should not get the nasal spray if you:

  • Have heart disease.
  • Have diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Have lung disease, including asthma.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Have a condition such as a seizure disorder or cerebral palsy that can cause breathing or swallowing problems.
  • Have a disease or take a medicine that causes problems with your immune system.

Even if a flu vaccine does not prevent the flu, it can reduce the severity of flu symptoms and decrease the risk of complications.

Infection control:

Some effective ways to reduce the transmission of influenza include good personal health and hygiene habits such as:

  • not touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • frequent handwashing with soap and water
  • covering coughs and sneezes
  • avoiding close contact with sick people
  • staying home if you are sick
  • Avoiding spitting
  • Using face masks

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