Flu is the short word for influenza, which is caused by viruses infecting the respiratory tract. People who contract the flu are able to completely recover after one to two weeks. However, it is possible to develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications like pneumonia from a bout of flu.
Influenza or flu infection may cause more severe illnesses and it has a mortality rate of 0.1%. Historically, worldwide outbreaks (pandemics) have occurred several times since the influenza virus was discovered in 1933. Influenza viruses constantly change. This allows the virus to survive the body's immune system, such that the body is always vulnerable to the flu virus.
The flu is highly infectious, causing serious respiratory infection and causing stress to the body. A patient with the flu will be unable to go to work or school and will be easily affected by bacterial infections if the flu is left untreated and the body is weak. The flu affects 5%-20% of the population every year. More than 200,000 hospitalizations occur due to flu complications and 36,000 flu victims die every year.
The flu shouldn't be ignored. Here are a few guidelines on how to treat flu symptoms.
- Stay home. Get plenty of rest. Staying at home will also help contain the flu virus so that it will not spread to your school or workplace.
- Drink a lot of liquids. Water is good for the body. Fruit juice can give additional supplements to strengthen the body. Clear soups like chicken soup can provide additional electrolytes that the body needs.
- Avoid taking alcohol and tobacco.
- Patients may take over the counter medications to treat the symptoms of flu, like fever. These will not cure the flu but will help alleviate the discomfort. Drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen can be used to treat fever and aches. Children shouldn't be given aspirin because it might cause liver or brain damage (Reye syndrome).
- Cough expectorants or suppressants can be used to treat the cough. Steam inhalations can be useful in clearing blocked nasal passages.
- Eat well. Try to eat during regular meal times. Food will help the body cope with the stress of being infected by the flu virus.
- Patients can take antiviral drugs that may lessen the duration and severity of the flu. Zanamivir and oseltamivir are more effective if given within 48 hours from the onset of the flu.
Some flu symptoms may start to clear up after two-three days. Fevers usually last for about five days and weakness and tiredness in the body can last for weeks. Since complications may occur, care must be taken such that patients are treated at once if symptoms indicating a more severe or complicated attack of flu occur. If the patient is unable to drink fluids, has blood in the sputum, has difficulty breathing, is turning blue, or his fever is getting worse, the patient must be brought to the hospital immediately. Most likely, complications like pneumonia or bronchitis have occurred and require immediate treatment.