Getting sick is never fun, especially when it’s the flu. The flu is a respiratory illness that occurs when influenza viruses infect the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) and the lower respiratory tract (lungs). It is a contagious illness that can be mild, moderate, severe, or fatal.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of the flu are as follows:
- Sore or dry throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Body or muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
After coming into contact with someone who has the flu, it generally takes between 1 to 4 days for a person to get symptoms. People may exhibit a few symptoms or all of them. Sometimes vomiting and diarrhea occurs, but more commonly in children.
Doctors and health care providers ask patients about symptoms and perform basic examinations. If similar illnesses have occurred in the area, this may be enough for a diagnosis. But while knowing the signs and symptoms helps, it is difficult to diagnose the flu solely based on them because other respiratory illnesses cause similar symptoms. Diagnosing the flu requires laboratory tests. The most common test is called a rapid influenza diagnostic test that can be performed and have results within 30 minutes. Unfortunately, this test can provide inaccurate results and more tests may be needed.
More accurate tests may be performed in a hospital or public health laboratory. These tests involve a health care professional swiping the back of the throat or inside of the nose with a swab and sending it out for testing. No blood sample is required for these tests.
The flu can be treated with prescription medications known as antiviral drugs. These are available in pills, liquids, inhaled powder, or intravenous (IV) solutions. Antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. They also work to prevent further complications. These medications are not available over-the-counter, meaning they are only available with a prescription from a health care provider or doctor. It is important to note that antiviral drugs differ from antibiotics that are used to treat bacterial infections. In mild cases, doctors and healthcare providers may recommend treating the flue at home with hydration, rest, and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and fever.
Proficient Rx can help healthcare providers dispense, order, and track antiviral drugs with a convenient on-site pharmacy.
Most people infected with the flu will recover in a few days or weeks. Moderate complications of the flu include ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, and dehydration. Unfortunately, some people develop more serious complications from the flu. While it is possible for anyone to become severely ill from the flu, there are groups who are more at risk. High-risk groups include:
- Young children
- Pregnant women
- Adults 65 years old or older
- People with diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, or cardiovascular disease
People who meet any of the above criteria are more likely to develop serious complications that may require hospitalizations and sometimes result in fatalities. For example, people who have chronic lung disease are more likely to develop severe pneumonia. Pneumonia may result solely from the viral infection alone or from a combination of the flu virus and a bacterial infection. Other serious complications include:
- Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart)
- Encephalitis (inflammation of brain tissues)
- Myositis and rhabdomyolysis (inflammation of muscle tissues)
- Multi-organ failure
The flu may also worsen chronic medical problems, such as increased asthma attacks for people with asthma and a worsening heart condition for those with chronic heart disease.
The most effective prevention tool against the flu is the flu vaccine. A new flu vaccine is released every year in anticipation to the changing virus. The flu vaccine is most effective when it is received as soon as it’s made available. It is available either as a shot or nasal spray. While everyone 6 months old or older should get vaccinated, it is especially important for those in high-risk groups to do so. The vaccine is effective at preventing the flu and will result in milder symptoms and reduced risk of serious complications for those who still get the flu. In addition to getting the vaccine, people should cover coughs, avoid people who are ill, and wash hands frequently to prevent germs from spreading.