Understanding The Flu

There are few common illnesses that will knock you around as much as the flu does. The flu may come with a whole host of unpleasant symptoms such as: chills, fever, runny/blocked nose, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, cough, aches and pains. We’re often left wishing for it to be over as quickly as possible. The flu will affect people differently and its duration will vary depending on individual health factors.   

Influenza is a respiratory virus which is highly contagious and transmissible. Seasonal epidemics are generally caused by strains of influenza A and B. Spread from person to person occurs through droplets that become airborne once an infected person coughs or sneezes. Exposure to saliva is another way that influenza is passed on by routine contact, for example, kissing or sharing eating utensils or food.

The Length of the Flu

The flu is an unpleasant but short-term illness in most healthy people as the immune system is able to fight it off. Typically, symptoms will appear from around one to four days after exposure, and may last anywhere from five to seven days before they resolve.

Your annual flu shot protects against a number of influenza A and B strains, and reduces your chance of developing serious flu symptoms. Some symptoms of the flu, such as fatigue and cough, may linger once the initial illness resolves.

There are a few groups of people who may be at increased risk of complications from the flu. People in the groups listed below may have a compromised immune system leading to increased risk of complications such as pneumonia, sinus infections, fluid in the lungs and inflammation of the heart or brain:

  • Chronic illnesses (asthma, COPD, heart disease, HIV, diabetes)
  • Pregnancy
  • Body mass index of 40 or higher
  • Age 65 years or older
  • Young children

Treatment for the Flu

If you find yourself with the flu, it is important to make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. You may also take pain relievers as needed to reduce fever and relieve the aches and pains, such as:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Nurofen)
  • Paracetamol (Panadol)
  • Aspirin (Disprin, Aspro Clear)

If you are included in the high risk groups mentioned above and it is early on in the infection, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug to help reduce the duration of your flu symptoms.

Flu Prevention

Reducing your risk of contracting the influenza virus, and taking steps towards prevention is the best form of treatment. There are a few things you can do to take preventative action:

  • Receive your annual flu vaccine
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before you eat or touch your face
  • If you get flu symptoms, contact your doctor right away
  • If you smoke, consider quitting as smokers are more likely to get serious complications from the flu compared to non-smokers
  • If you do unfortunately get sick, the steps you have taken may help reduce the duration and severity of your symptoms.

Resources: Godman, H., 2022. How long does the flu last? – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-long-does-the-flu-last> [Accessed 16 May 2022].

Pro Medical SA, written by Emilee Bennett and reviewed by Dr Kristen Tee, GP

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