What is Flu-Symptoms and Treatment

The influenza virus strikes thousands of people worldwide every year. It is a serious viral disease and because it is a virus, antibiotics won’t help. The immune system is the body’s main defense against the flu virus, allowing most people to recover from the virus and minor complications like ear infections or bronchitis within two weeks of contracting the flu.

Symptoms include fever, being too weak to get out of bed, aching muscles, headache, and a dry cough. Elderly individuals 65 or older are more vulnerable to the influenza virus as aging seems to weaken the body’s immune response. The elderly are more likely to suffer from severe flu complications such as pneumonia as well as increased ER visits, hospitalizations, and death.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) say that flu vaccination is highly effective in preventing illness and reducing hospital admissions and deaths from flu.

Basic facts about colds and flu:

  • Cold viruses spread from hard surfaces such as telephones so if one uses a contaminated instrument and then touches noses or eyes, the virus can be transmitted. Contact with those who have a cold can also spread the virus.
  • Following the onset of a cold, an infected person can be contagious for up to four days; if a person has the flu, the contagious period lasts up to a week.
  • Any soap, not necessarily antibacterial, fights germs. Alcohol and bleach are also sanitary agents.
  • Colds are spread most by bodily contact or the sharing of infected hard surfaces (such as the telephone). Flu, however, spreads rapidly with proximity to the coughing and sneezing of an infected individual.
  • Colds and flu cannot be treated with antibiotics because viruses and not bacteria cause them.

Precautions for Preventing the Spread of Flu:

  • Washing hands regularly.
  • Treating hard surfaces that an infected person comes in contact with.
  • Staying away from infected persons for the proper amount of time.
  • Getting an annual flu shot.

Symptoms of Flu:

Doctors have a test to identify influenza. Eventually, it will be available in the form of a home kit. Until the test kits are available, know what the symptoms mean:

  • Sore throat and a stuffy nose accompany a cold, but are present less often with the flu.
  • Sneezing is usual with a cold but not as often with the flu.
  • Chest pain and a cough can be moderate with a cold and the cough is usually the “hacking” kind. The symptoms are more common to the flu and often become severe.
  • A headache is seldom caused by a cold but it’s quite prevalent with the flu.
  • Likewise, fever is rare with a cold but is characteristic of the flu and it’s not unusual for the temperature to stay in excess of a hundred degrees for up to four days.
  • Aches and pains are normally very slight with a cold but are typically present with the flu and can become quite severe.
  • Total exhaustion is an early and prominent flu symptom.
  • Bronchitis often results from the flu and it can become life-threatening.

Who is most at risk?

People suffering from a weak immune system as a consequence of radiotherapy, chemotherapy or high-dose steroids will be more at risk of catching flu. Similarly, people suffering with an illness like cancer or HIV will be at risk, simply because their body will not have the ability to resist the infection.

If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk for complications of flu. People who suffer with diabetes are well used to watching their diet to control their blood glucose levels. However, having flu can make this even more difficult to control because of nausea and lethargy.

Flu can put additional stress on the heart and people with angina or heart disease could damage the muscles of the heart and develop breathing difficulties.

Anyone that suffers with respiratory problems, such as asthma, emphysema or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can find their conditions aggravated by flu. This is because flu attacks the airways leading to coughing fits and spasms.

Is there any Treatment for Flu?

If you have flu it is best to stay at home, rest and keep warm. It is important to drink plenty of liquids to replace the fluid lost as you sweat. Analgesics (pain-killers) such as paracetamol can be taken for the aches and pains, although be careful not to take more than the recommended dose. Paracetamol will also help to reduce high temperatures. Cough syrups can help relieve irritable throats, but if you are diabetic it is important to ask your pharmacist about sugar-free varieties.

What about flu vaccinations?

Flu vaccination (sometimes called the flu jab) is available on the NHS for anyone with a serious medical condition, for nurses and doctors. You may also qualify for the vaccine if you are a carer of a vulnerable adult. The flu vaccine is effective because it encourages your body to produce antibodies to the virus and whilst it has an 80% success rate (Department of Health), no vaccine can offer complete protection.

Similarly, as the flu virus is always changing, last year’s vaccine won’t protect you for this year so it is important to have an annual vaccination to make sure you are covered. If you are worried about flu and unsure if you need a flu vaccination it is always best to seek advice at your local surgery. Contrary to popular belief, the vaccine cannot cause flu and should not make you feel unwell.

What are the Complications of the Flu?

Many people who experience flu symptoms such as high fevers, body aches, and a cough enjoy a full recovery within about two weeks; however, seniors are at risk for complications, including death, related to the flu. The CDC estimates that 200,000 people are hospitalized yearly due to the flu, and 36,000 people die each year from seasonal flu-related symptoms. The complications of influenza include:

  • Viral or bacterial pneumonia
  • Inflamed muscles (myositis)
  • Central nervous system infection
  • Infection around the heart (pericarditis)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or congestive heart failure (CHF)

When Should Seniors Receive the Flu Shot?

Influenza vaccinations are typically available starting in September and may continue to be available throughout the flu season, which typically peaks in January or February and may extend until April or May. The CDC recommends that seniors receive one influenza vaccine each year as soon as the vaccine becomes available or at least before December in order to give time (about two weeks) for the body to build antibodies for protection against the flu.

According to the CDC, the vaccine should provide protection throughout the regular flu season, even if administered at the start of the season. Seniors with a weakened immune system do not have added benefits by receiving two seasonal flu shots during the same flu season.

Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot?

Seniors should not receive a seasonal flu shot if they:

  • Have a severe chicken egg allergy
  • Have had a previous severe reaction to the influenza vaccine
  • Developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) up to 6 weeks after a previous flu shot
  • Have an illness with a fever (but may receive the vaccine after recovery from the illness)
  • Have other contraindications identified by their healthcare provider

What Should Seniors Expect After Getting a Seasonal Flu Shot?

Many seniors who receive the seasonal influenza vaccine do not experience side effects and enjoy the flu season free of symptoms. As with any vaccine, side effects are possible. More common side effects of the flu shot are:

  • Tenderness, soreness, and a reddened area at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever
  • Body aches

Seniors experiencing serious side effects, including allergic reactions, as a result of the flu shot should seek immediate emergency care. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program enables people to file a claim if they think a vaccination has caused them to be injured.

Many factors determine how the flu shot might work for an individual person, including the health of the individual receiving the vaccine and the strain of influenza that hits a particular area. Seniors may still get a case of the flu despite receiving the vaccine, but the shot may boost the senior’s immunity to minimize symptoms and decrease complications.

How Much Does a Flu Shot Cost?

Prices vary, and seniors can get current rates by contacting the site where they wish to receive the vaccine. According to Medicare’s web site at this time, the flu shot is free each year for those who have Medicare Part B who:

  • Have a doctor’s order
  • See a doctor who accepts Medicare for the shot
  • Have a doctor’s charge that does not exceed the maximum allowed by Medicare

Where Can Seniors Get a Flu Shot?

Many areas are attempting to make flu shots more accessible to seniors through added locations, convenient hours, and some offer curbside service. Seniors living in a nursing home or other group setting are usually able to receive a flu shot in the facility. Seasonal influenza vaccines are offered in various locations, including:

  • Physician’s offices
  • Local health departments
  • Pharmacies
  • Businesses where employees may be offered the vaccine
  • Flu clinics that may offer discounted or free flu shots

Influenza symptoms can be difficult to manage in any population, but seniors may be at increased risk for complications, hospitalization, and even death due to age, living conditions, or chronic health concerns. By incorporating preventive measures, seeking medical advice if experiencing flu-like symptoms, and communicating with a healthcare provider regarding special needs if caring for someone with the flu, seniors may be able to avoid more severe complications of seasonal flu.