All You Need to Know About Influenza (Flu)

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Update Date 13/07/2020 . 5 mins read
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What is influenza?

Commonly known as the seasonal flu or trangkaso in Filipino, influenza is a type of viral respiratory infection caused by a wide variety of viruses. 

This condition is usually associated with sudden fever, cough, runny nose, headache, and muscle and joint pain–undeniably the top indication for us Filipinos that we have the flu. 

But what is influenza? And who will get it easily? What makes it different from the common cold? Ahead, we discuss the key points about influenza, and the common myths and facts about trangkaso.

Types of Influenza Viruses

Why is it called seasonal flu? The different types of Influenza viruses

You’ve likely heard the term ‘flu season’ or experienced flu at certain times of the year yourself, and probably wondered why it occurs on an almost regular basis. What is influenza? Who will get it easily? To better understand this, it first helps to know what viruses cause influenza.

This is because there are actually four different types of seasonal influenza viruses that circulate in our environment, two of which usually cause the common trangkaso:

  • Influenza A viruses – This is one of the most common types of seasonal influenza viruses. You may be familiar with some of them such as Influenza A(H1N1), which caused the 2009 influenza epidemic. This, together with the Influenza A(H3N2), are the most common flu viruses currently circulating in the global population. 
  • Influenza B viruses – Another common type of seasonal influenza viruses are the Influenza B viruses, which aren’t classified based on sub-types but rather on their lineage. In this classification, the current lineages circulating in the human population are the B/Yamagata and the B/Victoria strains.
  • Influenza C viruses – This is a rare type of influenza virus that doesn’t get detected that frequently but could still cause mild infections in humans.
  • Influenza D viruses – these viruses primarily affect cattle, and have not been known to be contracted by humans.

Common Cold vs. Trangkaso

Is it the common cold, or is it trangkaso?

Due to slight similarities in signs and symptoms, common colds and flu are often initially mistaken for each other. While both illnesses are caused by viral infections, the viruses themselves that cause these infections are different.

The common cold is caused by a family of viruses called coronaviruses–yes, the same type of viruses that caused the SARS epidemic and the current COVID-19 epidemic. Despite this, the coronaviruses responsible for the common cold are mainly manageable and rarely present severe symptoms. 

The signs of the common cold often occurs gradually and consist of one or more of the following:

  • Runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Fever, although rarely

Cold symptoms typically resolve within a week. On the other hand, the symptoms of the flu are normally more severe, abrupt in presentation, and will include the symptoms similar to the common cold. in addition to:

  • Mild to moderate fever
  • Chills
  • Body and joint pain
  • Headaches

Flu symptoms will usually clear out a bit longer, taking up to two weeks to resolve on their own. However, unlike the common cold, which does not usually come with complications, people who are at risk due to compromised immune systems or other conditions may develop moderate to severe complications such as:

  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart
  • Multi-organ failures, such as respiratory or kidney failure

Due to this, flu is considered a hazardous infection for people that have a high risk of contracting these illnesses. So what is influenza? Who will get it easily?

Risk Factors

Just about anyone can get the flu, especially during “flu season,” but certain individuals, such as people over the age of 65, or those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart and lung diseases, and diabetes have a higher risk of developing complications related to flu. Even young, unvaccinated children and pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu.

Treatment and Prevention 

The flu is often managed by addressing key symptoms, such as taking medicine to relieve fever and body pain symptoms. A number of over-the-counter medicines contain a cocktail of medications that address these symptoms, and are often labeled anti-flu medicine. 

And aside from taking medication, those with the flu are also encouraged to stay at home in order to minimize transmission of the virus.

In some cases where patients develop complications due to their chronic illnesses, more serious medical attention is needed, including anti-viral treatment to mitigate the spread of the virus within the body. These treatments are normally prescribed as an immediate need in order to reduce the risk of complications in the patient.

Flu vaccines are still the most effective way to prevent catching the infection. These vaccines frequently use inactive influenza viruses to help your immune system form antibodies to fight off the virus in case of infection of active influenza strains. However, since influenza viruses commonly evolve as it circulates, it’s recommended to get flu vaccines yearly, especially for individuals who are at a higher risk of developing complications.

Aside from vaccination, protective measures should be taken consistently to avoid all sorts of viruses including the flu virus, such as:

  • Regularly washing your hands – a good measure is to thoroughly wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds and rinse with warm water
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and using tissues to wipe and disposing of them properly
  • Avoiding crowds, especially during flu season
  • Refraining from touching the face, eyes, mouth, or nose when out in public or in high-risk areas such as hospitals and crowded areas

Myths and Facts

We know that Filipinos are very ma-pamahiin, that is, many still believe old wives’ tales and often propagate various myths and home remedies for just about any illness. Trangkaso is no exception, and while some of these myths may be grounded in science, there are some that also need to be weeded out and updated with the latest information.

MYTH # 1 – You can get the flu when you get caught in the rain/staying in cold rooms/not drying yourself properly when you’re sweaty.

We’ve all heard it from our nanays: “Nako, huwag kang maliligo sa ulan, magkaka-trangkaso ka!” (Don’t bathe in the rain or you’ll catch the flu!).

While the flu season is generally associated with the rain and cold weather seasons (typically in June and during ber months), the association between the actual illness and the weather stop there. The only way to catch the flu is to come in contact with patients who have it, or viral droplets that are airborne or on surfaces that you touch.

It’s the same thing when you’re told to avoid staying in cold rooms for prolonged periods of time–it won’t magically give you the virus just for wanting to keep cool during the summer.

MYTH # 2 – Warm soup will help you recover from the flu.

One of the main symptoms of the flu is sore throat, and one way to alleviate pain from sore throat is to avoid cold water and drink warm fluids, soup included. While it does not in any way cure the flu, it does let you deal with the symptoms with less discomfort. It can also help promote sweating, which to some extent, can help reduce fever.

MYTH # 3 – Flu vaccines will make you immune to flu for life

The premise behind a vaccine hinges on the fact that your immune system will produce antibodies to help fight off viruses that enter your body. Vaccines are essentially inactive viruses, which are administered so the body can create antibodies to fight off the active virus.

While influenza vaccines are usually based on current circulating strains of the virus, these viruses are constantly evolving. This means that while you might have had a vaccine last year, this might not work on next year’s influenza strains.

It’s better to go for annual flu vaccination, especially for individuals at high risk such as pregnant women, children, and those who have chronic illnesses that make them more susceptible to viruses and other opportunistic infections.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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