Flu season is starting - what you need to know

As the leaves change colors and temperatures drop, we find ourselves on the brink of yet another flu season. With the annual arrival of influenza, it's time to roll up our sleeves, both figuratively and literally, and prepare for the challenges that the flu season brings.
Flu season is starting - what you need to know
Viktor Simunović, Dr.med.
Dr.med. Viktor Simunović
27 October 2023.

What is the flu?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines flu as contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Virus can infect nose, throat and, in some cases, lungs.

In most cases, symptoms are mild, but severe can result in complications and even death.

How do you know if you have a flu?

Symptoms usually last no longer than one week. If they last for two or three weeks, that could mean that complications are developing and that the patient should contact a doctor.

The flu symptoms are similar to the common cold but more severe. They generally include: fever, fatigue, feeling tired, body aches, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and chills.

Can you test for flu at home?

There are at-home flu testing kits available on the market. These kits typically provide a nasal swab to collect a sample, vial, and testing unit.

What to eat when you have the flu?

When you have the flu, focus on consuming foods that are easy to digest, provide necessary nutrients, and help boost your immune system is essential. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Soup

    Warm, homemade chicken soup or vegetable broth can help soothe your throat and provide hydration. It also contains essential nutrients and can help alleviate congestion.

  2. Ginger

    Ginger tea or ginger-infused foods can help relieve nausea and soothe your stomach.

  3. Bananas

    They are easy to digest and provide essential nutrients like potassium, which can be depleted due to flu symptoms.

  4. Toast or crackers

    Simple carbohydrates like plain toast or crackers can be gentle on your stomach and provide some energy.

  5. Oatmeal

    Easily digestible and packed with nutrients, oatmeal can provide you with energy and keep you full.

  6. Yogurt

    Probiotic-rich yogurt can help boost your immune system and support a healthy gut.

  7. Popsicles

    Cold treats like fruit popsicles can help soothe a sore throat and provide hydration.

  8. Herbal tea

    Chamomile or peppermint tea can provide comfort and relaxation while keeping you hydrated.

  9. Garlic

    It contains antimicrobial properties that may help boost your immune system. Incorporate it into your meals or add it to soup.

  10. Hydration

    Drink water, herbal tea, or electrolyte-rich beverages to prevent dehydration.

Flu vs. common cold symptoms comparison

FeverAbove 38°CBelow 38°C
Body achesSevere with muscle painMild
FatigueExtreme tirednessMild
NauseaUsually with vomitingNo nausea
CoughPersistent, dry or productiveSlight
HeadacheStrongNone or rare
Runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throatRareCommon

It's important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. Also, the severity of symptoms can differ between one person or another.

COVID - 19 vs. influenza vs. RSV

COVID-19, flu, and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) are all respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses and have varying impacts on individuals. Here are some key differences between these three.

Typical flu symptoms are high fever, body aches, and fatigue. COVID-19 virus attacks lungs and causes difficulty breathing and sore throat. RSV is the least dangerous illness of these three, with wheezing as a typical symptom.

Flu A vs. Flu B

Flu A and B are two types of influenza viruses that cause respiratory illnesses in humans. Here are some key differences between them:

  1. Strains

    Flu A viruses are classified into subtypes based on their surface proteins, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 18 known H subtypes and 11 known N subtypes, which can combine in various ways to create different strains.

    Flu B viruses, on the other hand, do not have subtypes but are classified into two lineages: Yamagata and Victoria.

  2. Severity

    Both flu A and B can cause mild to severe illness, but historically, flu A viruses have been associated with more severe epidemics and pandemics than flu B viruses.

  3. Prevalence

    Flu A viruses are more common and have a more comprehensive global distribution than flu B viruses. Flu A viruses can infect humans, birds, and other animals, while flu B viruses primarily infect humans.

  4. Antigenic drift

    Both flu A and flu B viruses can undergo genetic changes known as antigenic drift. This means that the virus's surface proteins can change over time, which may reduce the effectiveness of previously acquired immunity. However, flu A viruses are more prone to antigenic drift than flu B viruses.

  5. Antigenic shift

    Only flu A viruses can undergo antigenic shift, a more significant genetic recombination event. Antigenic shifts can lead to the emergence of novel flu strains that can cause pandemics, as seen with previous influenza pandemics, such as the H1N1 swine flu in 2009.

  6. Symptoms

    The symptoms of flu A and B infections are generally similar and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, fatigue, and sometimes nausea or vomiting. However, the severity of symptoms may vary from person to person and between different flu strains.

  7. Vaccination

    Annual flu vaccines are typically designed to protect against flu A and B viruses. The vaccine may contain different strains of each type based on global surveillance data and predictions for the upcoming flu season.

While flu A and B are the most common types of influenza, other types of influenza viruses, such as flu C and flu D, usually cause milder illnesses.

What is the contagiousness period of flu?

The contagiousness period of the flu can vary. Still, it typically begins one day before symptoms appear and can last up to one week after becoming sick. In some cases, particularly in young children and people with weakened immune systems, the contagious period may last longer.

It is important to note that you can get the flu if you are around someone who develops symptoms a day or two later. The incubation period for influenza is typically 1 to 4 days. However, it can range from 1 to 7 days in some cases.

Can you get the flu twice?

Yes, it is possible to get the flu twice. Different influenza virus strains cause the flu, and multiple strains are circulating each year. While your body develops immunity to the strain you have been infected with, you can still be susceptible to different strains.

Additionally, viruses can mutate, leading to new strains that your body may not have immunity against. Therefore, it is possible to get the flu more than once.

Flu vaccine side effects

The flu vaccine is generally safe and well-tolerated, but it can have side effects like any medication.

Most side effects are mild and temporary and may include:

  1. Soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site.

  2. Low-grade fever or body aches.

  3. Headache or fatigue.

  4. Nausea or vomiting.

  5. Runny or stuffy nose.

  6. Muscle or joint pain.

These side effects usually occur within a day or two of receiving the vaccine and resolve on their own within a few days. Serious side effects are rare but can include severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare neurological disorder), or fainting.

The risks of experiencing severe complications from the flu are much higher than those of getting vaccinated. The flu vaccine is recommended for most individuals, especially those at high risk of flu-related complications, such as young children, pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with certain medical conditions.

What to avoid after a flu shot?

After receiving a flu shot, it is generally recommended to avoid the following:

  1. Strenuous physical activity

    Give your body time to rest and recover after the flu shot. Avoid intense exercise or heavy lifting for at least 24 hours.

  2. Touching the injection site

    It's essential to avoid touching or scratching the injection site to prevent any potential irritation or infection.

  3. Taking certain medications

    Some medications, such as over-the-counter pain relievers or antihistamines, may interfere with the flu vaccine's effectiveness. Consult with your healthcare provider before taking new medicines after the flu shot.

  4. Drinking alcohol excessively

    Alcohol can weaken the immune system, so it's best to avoid excessive alcohol consumption for a few days after the flu shot.

  5. Coming into close contact with sick individuals

    Although the flu shot helps protect against the flu, it may take a couple of weeks for the vaccine to provide complete protection. Avoid close contact with individuals sick with the flu or other contagious illnesses.

The cure and remedies for the flu

The cure for the flu is influenza antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). They can help reduce the severity and duration of the flu if taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms and are usually prescribed to high–risk patients or ones with severe symptoms.

Antibiotics are ineffective against the flu since the flu is a viral infection, not bacterial.

In most cases, these home remedies and treatments are enough to ease the symptoms.

  1. Nasal Irrigation

    A saline nasal rinse or spray can help clear nasal passages and relieve congestion. Using sterile water or commercially prepared saline solution is essential to avoid infection.

  2. Rest

    Getting plenty of rest allows your body to focus on fighting off the virus. Stay home from work or school, and avoid strenuous activities until you recover.

  3. Fluid

    Staying hydrated is crucial when you have the flu. Drink plenty of water, herbal tea, clear broths, or electrolyte solutions to replenish fluids lost due to fever, sweating, or respiratory symptoms.

  4. Over-the-counter (OTC) Medications

    Pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce fever, alleviate body aches, and relieve headaches. Cough suppressants or expectorants can relieve coughing, and decongestants can help relieve nasal congestion.

  5. Steam Inhalation

    Inhaling steam from a hot shower, bowl of hot water, or humidifier can help soothe nasal congestion and ease breathing.

  6. Gargling with Saltwater

    A saltwater gargle can help relieve a sore throat. Mix half a teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle for 30 seconds before spitting it out.

Prevention is always better than cure, so getting an annual flu vaccine is highly recommended. Additionally, practicing good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with infected individuals, can help reduce the risk of contracting the flu.

How many people die from the flu?

The number of people who die from the flu varies yearly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seasonal influenza epidemics result in 3-5 million cases of severe illness each year, and approximately 290,000-650,000 deaths.

Doctor knows better

If you suspect you have a flu, book a consultation with our experts. It is essential to start flu treatments immediately to ease the symptoms. This is especially important if you are older, have compromised immunity, or suffer from other respiratory diseases.

With telehealth platform EUDoctor there is no need to leave the comfort of your home and risk further complications.

We love to share our knowledge

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