What is influenza?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is caused by the influenza virus and symptoms vary in severity depending on the strain of virus.

The most common symptoms are listed below with a comparison between a cold and flu symptoms. The symptoms usually begin two days after with high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, headache, coughing and feeling tired. The cough may last for two weeks.

What are the symptoms of flu versus the symptoms of a cold?

The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.

Other symptoms may include, hoarseness, irritated and watery eyes, earache

“Influenza viruses are divided scientifically into three types, designated A, B, and C. Influenza types A and B are responsible for epidemics of respiratory illness that occur almost every winter. Influenza type C usually causes either a very mild respiratory illness or no symptoms at all; it does not cause epidemics and does not have the severe public health impact of influenza types A and B. Type A viruses are divided into subtypes and are named based on differences in two viral surface proteins called hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 16 known H subtypes and nine known N subtypes.” (https://www.medicinenet.com/flu_vaccination/article.htm)

Influenza is highly infectious and that is why it is advisable to be vaccinated against it

How is the virus spread?

The virus is spread by:

Airborne infection – Through the air by coughing. It is very important to close your mouth with a tissue or the inside of the elbow to prevent the spread of the virus.

Droplet infection – Droplets from sneezing so it is very important to cover your nose with a tissue or the inside of the elbow to prevent the spread of the virus.

Contact Infection – From physical contact with an infected individual, it is advisable to regularly wash your hands during times when flu is prevalent.

How the flu vaccine works

The primary benefit of vaccines is that is prevents diseases. When one is vaccinated you prevent the disease being spread to others.

Newer version of the previous year’s influenza virus are developed each year. This makes the vaccine used the previous year ineffective against new strains of influenza virus. The vaccine is only effective against the strains of the virus matching the vaccine.

The vaccines are grown in eggs and thus it has been said if you have an egg allergy then you should not have the flu vaccine. But a newer egg-free version of the vaccine had been developed.

The vaccine stimulates the immune system to make antibodies to attack the relevant flu viruses found in the immunization.

An antibody is a protein produced by the body to fight viruses. It may take 10 to 14 days for your body to build up the immunity after you have had the flu vaccine.

The vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses so it cannot give you flu or make you sick. Vaccines are tested thoroughly to make sure they will not cause harm.

How effective is the flu vaccine

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is dependent of the current vaccine used and the current strain covered. If these are the same then the vaccine will be very effective.

Who should receive the flu vaccine?

It is advised that all person over the age of 6 months should have the seasonal flu vaccination. The flu vaccine is especially important for those at higher risk

  • Asthmatics
  • Diabetics
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Immune compromised individuals
  • Caregivers

Who should not receive the flu vaccines?

There are very few instances where the flu vaccine is not recommended;

  • If you ever had a very severe allergy to an influenza vaccination.
  • Person with a history of Guillian-Barre syndromes
  • If you currently have a fever, wait for the fever to subside and then take the vaccination

Side effects of Vaccines

Most side effects are mild and do not last very long. Side-effects can be;

  • Redness and swelling at the injection site as well as feeling a bit bruised
  • Young children and babies may fell unwell for a day or two with fever
  • Allergic reactions are rare but is it does happen it is almost immediate

Treatment and Prevention of Influenza

  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Clean common areas with disinfectant like door handles and counter tops
  • Get enough rest – rest helps the body to fight viruses
  • Eat healthy including all food groups to boost the immune system
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take vitamin supplements especially vitamin C to boost the immune system
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get your flu vaccine

Belinda Walters-Girout