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Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu), which is usually a health issue that can be overcome with the right treatment plan within 1-2 weeks, can lead to life-threatening situations if not taken seriously in children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Taking some personal precautions and seeking professional help are important to protect against influenza.

What is influenza?


Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an infection caused by influenza A and B viruses and is characterized by symptoms such as cough, weakness, and high fever. It is more prevalent during cold weather and seasonal transitions. Influenza can affect many people during an outbreak, and to protect oneself from it, it is essential to dress appropriately for the season, maintain a balanced and healthy diet, and avoid contact with sick individuals.


The flu is often confused with the common cold (nasal congestion), but it is a more severe disease caused by a contagious virus. The flu virus can remain viable for weeks at temperatures between 0-4 °C, making it more likely to cause infections during the winter months. The virus primarily spreads through coughing, sneezing, and speaking.


The virus can be transmitted through all objects that come into contact with infected individuals, making it important to be cautious. Those at higher risk of experiencing severe flu symptoms include children, the elderly, individuals with chronic illnesses, healthcare workers, and teachers. Regularly washing hands with soap and water throughout the day is crucial to prevent infection.


If infected with the flu virus, it is essential to seek medical attention instead of starting influenza medications without proper guidance. The experts at Uniqacare Clinic's Internal Medicine Department provide information about the flu and its treatment methods below.


What are the risk factors of influenza?


Factors that can increase your risk of contracting the flu or developing complications include:


Age: Seasonal flu tends to target children from 6 months to 5 years old and adults aged 65 and older.

Living or working conditions: People living or working in crowded environments such as nursing homes, care facilities, etc., have a higher likelihood of catching the flu. Those hospitalized are also at higher risk.

Weakened immune system: Cancer treatments, prolonged use of steroids, organ transplantation, blood cancer, or HIV/AIDS can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching the flu and increasing the risk of developing complications.

Chronic illnesses: Chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders, metabolic disorders, kidney, liver, or blood diseases, and lung diseases can increase the risk of flu complications.

Pregnancy: Pregnant women, especially in the second and third trimesters, have a higher likelihood of developing influenza complications. The risk of flu-related complications remains elevated for women up to two weeks after giving birth.

Morbid obesity: People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher may have an increased risk of flu complications.


What are the symptoms of influenza?


The symptoms of influenza (flu), which appears after a two-day incubation period, can be mistaken for the common cold and other respiratory infections. The common cold shows symptoms like gradually developing weakness, sore throat, and intermittent coughing. It is usually mild and can be managed while remaining active. On the other hand, flu symptoms begin suddenly, unlike the common cold. The person may feel fine when going to school or work. Within 3-6 hours, the flu manifests with sudden chills, extreme weakness, fever, nasal congestion or runny nose, and especially discomfort (pressure) in the chest, accompanied by a dry cough.


The following symptoms may be observed in a person with the flu:

  • Fever

  • Stuffy or runny nose

  • Cold sweats, shivering

  • Muscle aches, which can be severe in some individuals

  • Feeling tired

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Headache

Not everyone with the flu will experience all of these symptoms. For example, it's possible for someone to have the flu without experiencing a fever.


What are the types of influenza?


There are four types of influenza viruses that cause the flu: A, B, C, and D. Influenza A and B viruses are responsible for seasonal disease outbreaks, especially occurring during the winter. Influenza A viruses are the only known flu viruses to cause flu pandemics. Infections caused by Influenza C virus result in mild illness, and it is not considered to cause human pandemics. Influenza D viruses primarily affect cattle and are believed to be transmitted to other animals, but it is not known to infect humans in a way that causes disease.


What is the difference between influenza and COVID-19?


COVID-19 and the flu may have similar symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. The similarities between Coronavirus and flu include:

  • Both diseases can cause fever, cough, body aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children).

  • Both can lead to pneumonia.

  • Both diseases can range from asymptomatic, mild, to severe and even fatal.

  • Both have vaccines available.


Despite the many similarities in symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu, there are some specific differences that have been identified so far:


Onset of symptoms: The flu tends to come on suddenly. Typically, flu symptoms appear 1-4 days after infection. COVID-19 symptoms, on the other hand, may develop more gradually. Additionally, some people infected with COVID-19 may remain entirely asymptomatic.

Type and severity of cough: The flu often causes a mild and dry cough, while COVID-19 cough symptoms are more severe. Coughs in COVID-19 patients are typically dry, persistent, and may lead to shortness of breath.

Specific symptoms of COVID-19: Some symptoms that are more common in COVID-19 and less common in the flu include:

  • Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)

  • Sudden loss of taste and smell

  • Sore throat


How does COVID-19 and influenza spread?


Both coronavirus and the flu spread when respiratory droplets from an infected person's nose or mouth are inhaled by others, usually through coughing, sneezing, or talking. The virus can also spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. Both diseases can be transmitted by individuals who are infected but show no symptoms.


Because flu and COVID-19 symptoms can be similar, the definitive diagnostic test is the PCR test. If someone experiences symptoms of the disease, they should seek medical attention promptly, get tested to determine whether they have COVID-19 or the flu, and begin treatment without delay.


What are the causes of influenza?


Influenza is a respiratory tract infection caused by the influenza virus, primarily affecting the nose, throat, bronchi, and, rarely, the lungs. It can quickly spread through coughing, sneezing, close contact, kissing, and handshaking. The influenza virus spreads when hands are not washed frequently during the day. The transmission of influenza is very common in enclosed spaces. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, millions of viruses are released into the air. Healthy individuals can contract the virus through respiratory droplets. People without immunity to influenza usually get sick within 1-4 days after exposure.


In places where people gather in large numbers, such as schools, places of worship, cinemas, and theaters, hundreds of individuals can be infected with influenza through coughing and sneezing. The virus can survive in the external environment for about 2-8 hours. As a result, healthy individuals who touch surfaces such as stair railings, telephone receivers, desks, and door handles that have been touched by an infected person can catch the influenza virus. People who acquire the virus through contact with their hands, mouth, or eyes can infect themselves.


How is the diagnosis of influenza made?


The diagnosis of the influenza is made after reviewing the individual's medical history and conducting a physical examination. To distinguish it from the common cold, a definitive diagnosis of the flu is made by conducting a nasal swab test.


What are the treatment methods of influenza?


Influenza can lead to serious illnesses such as pneumonia and meningitis if not controlled with proper treatment. Therefore, flu treatment should not be neglected, and a medical professional should be consulted.


Initially, flu patients should be isolated at home to prevent the spread of the virus. After their fever subsides for one day, they can return to work or school. Patient education is essential in flu treatment. All patients should be informed about how the virus is transmitted and given guidance on what precautions to take.


Antiviral medications, available in both tablet and inhalation forms, can help the flu pass more mildly and quickly. Whether to start an antiviral agent for a patient diagnosed with the flu should be decided by a doctor.


Especially for some high-risk patients, starting antiviral medications within 24-48 hours of the first symptoms can reduce the severity and duration of the illness. Additionally, these medications can prevent the spread of the flu virus to others.


Each year, about half of pre-school and school-age children experience influenza, or flu, infections. While most children are treated at home, a small percentage may require hospitalization. Treating a child's fever and muscle aches with pain relievers and encouraging rest and adequate fluid intake is recommended. The younger the child who contracts the flu, the higher the likelihood of hospitalization.


Children under the age of two, those with chronic illnesses, immunocompromised individuals, severely obese children, and those living in care facilities are at a higher risk of experiencing complicated (life-threatening) influenza. Clearing the child's nose with saline solution and aspirating secretions can provide relief in younger children.


How many days does influenza last?


Most people can typically overcome influenza within an average of 10 days. However, for individuals in the high-risk group or those with chronic conditions, influenza can pose a life-threatening risk, and it may require treatment to recover.


Does influenza cause coughing?


Those who are infected with influenza are more sensitive to temperature changes, dust, and dry air, which can lead to coughing. Even after the flu has been untreated for a long time and eventually subsides, it can leave behind a persistent cough.


What is good for influenza?


After contracting an influenza infection, it is essential to pay attention to balanced and adequate nutrition during the flu or common cold treatment in order to recover quickly and prevent the severity and prolongation of the illness.


In infectious diseases, the body's energy needs are higher than in a healthy individual. To meet the body's energy requirements, it is recommended to follow a nutrition program rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.


Rest and Sleep: Rest is among the most important methods that help with influenza. Additionally, having good sleep quality strengthens the individual's immune system, which facilitates a quick recovery from the flu.


Fluid Intake: In cases of influenza and the common cold, fluid intake should be around 2.5-3 liters per day to compensate for possible fluid loss.


Gargling: During influenza, individuals may experience throat pain and nasal congestion. Rinsing the nose with a saline solution and gargling can provide relief.


Medications Recommended by the Doctor: During flu treatment, fever-reducing or pain-relieving medications can be used. Doctors may particularly recommend medications from the paracetamol group. Taking these medications 3-4 times a day can be beneficial for the individual's recovery.


Which foods should be consumed during influenza?


Prebiotic foods, ginger, turmeric, cloves, and echinacea also support the effectiveness of the immune system and are beneficial for influenza. Ginseng is a valuable and effective herb. Ginseng increases body resistance and regulates the immune system. Therefore, there are many low-quality or counterfeit products in the market. To be effective, it is essential to purchase influenza products from reliable sources.


Oolong and rooibos teas also exhibit antioxidant effects when brewed correctly and consumed in the appropriate amount. You can also contribute to your immune system by consuming 1-2 cups of white tea daily.


Foods such as oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits are among the fruits that are good for influenza. Additionally, foods containing zinc, such as nuts, almonds, and mushrooms, also contribute to improving body resistance against influenza.


What vitamin is good for influenza?


Vitamin C

Taking vitamin C in supplement form every day without consulting a doctor is not a way to prevent influenza. Vitamin C should be obtained from foods rather than in supplement form. When vitamin C is obtained from foods, it also benefits from the phytochemicals present in those foods. Foods rich in vitamin C include green bell peppers, parsley, watercress, arugula, cauliflower, spinach, kiwi, oranges, lemons, mandarins, tomatoes, grapefruits, pomegranates, and rose hips.


Zinc and Selenium

These are important minerals for the immune system. Selenium can be found in seafood such as shrimp, salmon, tuna, mushrooms, beef, onions, and garlic. Zinc, which has a significant role in the body's defense mechanism, can be found in pumpkin seeds, raw nuts (walnuts, almonds), turkey meat, lamb meat, asparagus, and mushrooms. Both minerals strengthen the body's cells that fight against toxins.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These are the most valuable fats. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood pressure and reduce the tendency of blood clotting and the risk of coronary disease. Besides omega-3, fish also contains essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, which are essential for cell renewal and protection against aging. Raw nuts (walnuts, almonds) are also a source of Omega-3.


Beta-Carotene

Pumpkin, carrots, pineapples, dates, and apricots are among the vegetables and fruits with the highest content of beta-carotene.


Quercetin-containing foods like citrus fruits, apples, red grapes, onions, strawberries, mulberries, and blackberries, as well as red onions, are important and powerful antioxidants for the immune system, and they should be consumed during influenza and colds.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT INFLUENZA (FLU)?

What is the difference between influenza and cold?


Influenza, also known as the flu, is an infection caused by influenza A and B viruses. On the other hand, the common cold can be caused by more than 200 different viruses. People with the common cold usually do not have a fever or may have a mild fever, whereas in flu patients, a sudden rise in body temperature is commonly observed. Headache is always present in cases of the flu, while in individuals with the common cold, headache may occasionally occur.


Mild fatigue is a common symptom in cases of the common cold, whereas in flu patients, fatigue is more pronounced and can last for weeks. Cough is a mild complaint in the common cold, but in the flu, it is severe. Throat soreness is usually present in upper respiratory tract infections (common cold), but in the flu, throat soreness is less common.


Is antibiotics used in the treatment of influenza?


Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. They are only needed when conditions caused by bacteria (such as middle ear infections, sinusitis, etc.) develop. Since antibiotics are not effective against viruses, they are not used in the treatment of influenza.

The treatment of influenza always consists of supportive therapies, and antibiotics are not included. Key elements of influenza treatment include maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, staying well-hydrated, and getting plenty of rest.


What are the ways to protect against influenza?


Influenza is transmitted through respiratory secretions. During coughing or sneezing, the mouth and nose should be covered with a tissue. Touching the eyes, nose, or mouth after shaking hands with an infected person can lead to transmission. Regular and thorough handwashing, including washing hands with soap and water, can help protect against influenza and many other diseases.


To protect against influenza, the following recommendations should be considered:


  1. Avoid close contact with sick individuals to prevent transmission through contact.

  2. Stay away from items used by the sick person (towels, cups, etc.).

  3. Wash hands frequently with soap and water throughout the day.

  4. Avoid touching the face, eyes, or mouth if hands haven't been washed recently.

  5. Clean surfaces such as kitchen countertops and sinks regularly, as they may harbor the virus.

  6. Wearing masks can help prevent the transmission of the flu infection to others for those who are sick. Additionally, non-infected individuals should wear masks when visiting sick individuals.

  7. Indoor spaces (workplaces, schools, etc.) should be well-ventilated.

  8. Dress according to the weather and maintain a balanced and healthy diet.

  9. Getting vaccinated against the flu is one of the most important ways to protect against influenza.


Does the influenza vaccine prevent the flu?


Influenza infection is quite important and risky. To protect against the flu, the first and most important step is to consult a healthcare professional and get the influenza vaccine and other recommended vaccinations. This way, the body will be much stronger against the viruses that cause the flu for a year. The influenza viruses causing infections can vary from one year to another.

For this reason, every year, the influenza viruses are studied to determine the virus types that will be included in the next year's vaccine. As a result, the protective effect of the vaccine from the previous year may decrease over time, making it important to get vaccinated every year.

If the encountered virus is exactly the same as the one included in the vaccine received, this means there will be no flu infection. In case of encountering a virus with slight differences, the flu infection is likely to be milder.


Who should get the influenza vaccine?


The main goal in combating influenza is to prevent especially individuals in the risk group from getting influenza infections; however, this does not mean that only those in the risk group should get vaccinated. Influenza infections spread in the form of outbreaks.

In fact, nearly the same number of new influenza cases would arise as the number of individuals who are already infected with influenza. In this context, it is crucial not only for individuals in the risk group but also for healthy individuals to get the influenza vaccine. Vaccination programs can only effectively protect the individuals in the risk group from influenza infections if both the risk group and healthy individuals are vaccinated.


When is the influenza vaccine administered?


The majority of influenza infections, which can occur in any season, occur between October and May. Before the flu season begins, the most suitable period to get vaccinated, especially for high-risk groups (such as children of primary school age, individuals aged 65 and older, those with immunosuppressive conditions...), is between September and October. The protective effect of the vaccine becomes evident 2-3 weeks after vaccination. Vaccinations should be completed before December, but if a person has already contracted the flu, vaccination can be administered until the end of the flu season. The protection provided by the influenza vaccine generally lasts for 6 to 12 months. Under ideal conditions, the flu vaccine offers approximately 70% to 90% protection. The vaccine's effectiveness is generally higher in younger individuals compared to older individuals.


Does one get the flu vaccine after having the flu?


Vaccinations made after getting the flu have no contribution to the treatment. The presence of a mild upper respiratory tract infection (common cold) does not prevent the administration of the flu vaccine.


Who should not get the flu vaccine?


Anyone above 6 months of age can get the flu vaccine. However, there are certain individuals who should not receive the vaccine under special circumstances. These include:

  • Infants younger than 6 months

  • Individuals with allergies to eggs or any components of the flu vaccine

  • Pregnant women in their first trimester (Vaccination can be considered if recommended by a doctor)

  • Individuals with a fever above 38 degrees Celsius

  • Individuals who have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome within 6 weeks after receiving an influenza vaccine.


Are there any side effects of the flu vaccine?


The vaccine is a highly safe vaccine with very few side effects. The most common side effect of the flu vaccine is soreness and tenderness at the injection site. The flu vaccines used in our country contain inactivated, non-living viruses. Therefore, there is absolutely no risk of the vaccine causing the disease.


Do influenza symptoms differ in children?


Children usually have similar symptoms to adults, but they may also experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.


How can the influenza virus be rendered ineffective?


The influenza virus is sensitive to various chemical disinfectants, detergents (soap), alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine antiseptics, and temperatures above 75 degrees Celsius.


Do you need to see a doctor for the influenza?


In adults and children belonging to certain risk groups, as well as individuals aged 65 and above, influenza can lead to conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, and ear infections. It is especially crucial for individuals in the risk groups to take necessary precautions between November and March when influenza is most prevalent. If influenza is not controlled in its early stages, it can lead to serious health problems such as laryngitis, sinusitis, otitis media, as well as life-threatening conditions like pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, and muscle inflammation. Therefore, taking preventive measures early on for influenza is of great importance. Instead of starting random flu medications and relying on vitamins based on advice from others, it is essential to seek medical attention and begin the necessary treatment without delay.


Does sweating help with the influenza?


Sweating helps with the flu as it aids in reducing fever. After sweating, you can take a shower and wear lightweight clothing to feel more comfortable.

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