Influenza | Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Treatment


Influenza is a viral infection that affects your respiratory system, including your throat, nose, and lungs. Influenza is often called the flu. However, it is not the same thing as stomach viruses that can cause diarrhea or vomiting.

The flu usually goes away on its own for most people. Sometimes, however, flu complications and influenza can prove fatal. The following people are at greater risk for complications from flu:

  • Children younger than 5 years old, and children less than 6 months of age
  • Adults over 65 years old
  • Long-term care residents in nursing homes and other facilities
  • Women who are pregnant and women who have given birth within two weeks
  • People with weak immune systems
  • Native Americans
  • Chronic illnesses include asthma, kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • People who are extremely obese with a bodyweight index (BMI) of 40 or more

Although the annual flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective it is still the best defense against the flu.

Signs of Influenza 

The flu can look like a common cold, with symptoms such as a runny nose and sneezing, but it is not. The flu is more rapid than colds, which tend to develop gradually. A cold can be bothersome, but the flu is usually much more severe.

The following are common symptoms and signs of flu:

  • Fever
  • Itching muscles
  • Sweats and chills
  • Headache
  • A persistent, dry cough
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Nose stuffy or runny
  • Sore throat
  • Eye pain
  • Diarrhea and vomiting are more common in children than in adults.

When should you see a doctor?

The majority of flu sufferers can manage their symptoms at home and don’t often need to visit a doctor.

You should see your doctor immediately if you are experiencing flu symptoms or are at high risk for complications. Antiviral medications can reduce the duration of your illness and prevent you from developing more serious complications.

Get medical attention immediately if you experience flu symptoms or emergency signs. Adults may experience the following emergency signs and symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulties or shortness of breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Ongoing dizziness
  • Seizures
  • An increase in the severity of existing medical conditions
  • Severe weakness, or severe muscle pain

Children can experience the following emergency signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Chest pain
  • Dehydration
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Seizures
  • An increase in the severity of existing medical conditions

Causes of Influenza 

Influenza viruses spread through the air as droplets. This happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Either you can inhale the droplets or pick them up from an object (such as a telephone) and then transfer them into your eyes, nose, or mouth.

The virus is likely to make people contagious starting about one day before symptoms start and ending around five days later. People with weak immune systems and children may be more contagious than others.

Influenza viruses change constantly. New strains are appearing all the time. Your body may have already produced antibodies to combat the strain of influenza you have had in the past. You can prevent future influenza infections from occurring by either getting vaccinated or having your symptoms tested. However, antibody levels can decrease over time.

Antibodies against influenza viruses that you have had in the past may not be effective against new strains. These viruses can be quite different from those you had previously.

Risk factors

The following factors could increase your chances of getting the flu or other complications:

  • Age. Seasonal influenza is most common in children aged 6 to 5 years, and 65 years or older.
  • Conditions of living or work. Flu is more common in people who live or work with many residents (e.g., military barracks or nursing homes). Patients who spend a lot of time in hospitals are also at greater risk.
  • A weak immune system. The immune system can be affected by long-term anti-rejection drugs, cancer treatments, organ transplants, blood cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other medications. This can make it easier for the flu to spread and increase the likelihood of complications.
  • Chronic diseases. Chronic conditions such as lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, and nervous system diseases, metabolic disorders, asthma, heart disease, heart disease, heart disease, nerve system diseases, metabolic disorder, an airway abnormality, kidney, liver, or blood disease can increase the chance of developing influenza complications.
  • Race. Native Americans may be at greater risk for influenza complications.
  • Aspirin use under age 19. If they are under 19 years old and are receiving long-term aspirin treatment, they are at greater risk of contracting influenza.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnant women are at greater risk of developing influenza complications, especially in the second and third trimesters. Two weeks after giving birth, influenza-related complications are more common in women.
  • Obesity. Flu complications are more likely to affect those with a higher body mass (BMI) than 40.


The flu is usually not serious if you are young and healthy. The flu is usually a temporary illness that disappears in a few days. Children and adults who are at higher risk of complications may experience:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma flare-ups
  • Heart problems
  • Infections of the ear
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome

Pneumonia can be fatal. Pneumonia can prove fatal for older adults or people living with chronic illnesses.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older receive flu vaccines annually. Flu vaccines can lower your flu risk and severity, as well as the likelihood of getting serious flu-like symptoms and staying in hospital.

This season, flu vaccination is particularly important because coronavirus disease 2019 and flu (COVID-19), both cause similar symptoms. Flu vaccination may reduce symptoms that could be confused with COVID-19. The number of hospitalizations and flu symptoms could be reduced by preventing the flu and decreasing the severity.

You may be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination at the same time you get your flu vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine for this year provides protection against the four influenza viruses that are most prevalent during flu season. The vaccine will be offered as an injection or as a nasal spray this year.

Some groups are not recommended to use the nasal spray, such as:

  • Children under 2
  • Seniors over 50
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Children between 2 and 17 years old who are taking aspirin or a salicylate-containing medication
  • People with weak immune systems
  • Children aged 2-4 years who have suffered from asthma or wheezing during the last 12 months

You can still get the flu vaccine even if you have an egg allergy.

The control of the spread

Although the influenza vaccine doesn’t work 100% of the time, it is important to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease.

  • Wash your hands. It is a good idea to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at most 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Avoid touching your face. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Use a tissue to cover your mouth or elbow. Wash your hands.
  • Clean surfaces. Keep surfaces clean and dry. This will prevent the spread of infection to your skin from touching surfaces with viruses.
  • Avoid crowds. Flu spreads quickly wherever there are people, including in schools, offices, public transport, and child care centers. Avoid crowds during flu season to reduce your chance of getting infected.
    Avoid anyone who is ill. To reduce your chances of spreading the virus to others, you should stay at home for at most 24 hours if your fever has gone.

The flu and COVID-19 may be spreading simultaneously. If you aren’t fully vaccinated, your local health department or the CDC might suggest additional precautions to lower your chances of getting COVID-19 and flu. You may be asked to social distance (physical distance) and keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) from anyone outside your home. A cloth mask may be required indoors and outdoors. The CDC recommends that you wear a mask indoors, outdoors, in crowded areas, and when you come into contact with others who have not been vaccinated.


Your doctor will perform a physical exam and look for signs and symptoms that could indicate influenza. He may also order a test to confirm the presence of influenza viruses.

You may not be required to have your influenza vaccine tested during flu season. Based on your symptoms and signs, your doctor might diagnose you.

Your doctor might recommend that you get tested for influenza in certain cases. He or she may use various tests to diagnose influenza. In many hospitals and laboratories, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), testing is more common. The test can be performed in your office or at the hospital. The PCR test is more sensitive than other tests and can identify the influenza strain.

You can have both COVID-19 and influenza tested at the same time. Both COVID-19 or influenza may be present at the same moment.

Treatment of Influenza 

The flu usually requires little more than rest and fluids. Your doctor may recommend an antiviral medication to help with flu symptoms. These medications include zanamivir, peramivir(Rapivab), oseltamivir [Tamiflu], zanamivir (“Relenza”) and baloxavir (“Xofluza”). These drugs can reduce your symptoms by one day and prevent you from developing serious complications.

Oseltamivir can be taken orally. Zanamivir can be inhaled via a device that looks similar to an asthma inhaler. It should not be used by people with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma or lung disease.

Side effects of the antiviral medication include nausea and vomiting. These side effects can be reduced if the drug is taken with food.

Many strains of influenza are now resistant to amantadine or rimantadine (Flumadine), older antiviral drugs which are no longer recommended.

Lifestyle and home remedies

These measures can be helpful if you have the flu.

  • Get plenty of fluids. Drink plenty of water, juice, and warm soups to avoid dehydration.
  • Get more sleep. To help your immune system fight infection, get more sleep. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to adjust your activity level.
  • You should consider pain relievers. To combat the symptoms of influenza, you can use an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin IB). Reye’s syndrome is a rare but potentially fatal condition in which children and teens who have flu-like symptoms shouldn’t take aspirin.

Keep your children and yourself at home to prevent the spread of influenza within your community. Unless you are receiving medical attention, avoid being around others until you feel better. Wear a mask if you have to go outside your home for medical treatment. Make sure to wash your hands frequently.

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