Chills, a sore throat and achy muscles; symptoms of influenza or “the flu” are similar to a nasty head cold but more severe. The flu is a common infectious respiratory disease that is highly contagious, affecting between 10 and 25 percent of Canadians annually. Each year strains of seasonal flu circulate, making people sick, and occasionally people are infected with strains, such as the swine flu, that don’t normally affect humans. Most people recover from the flu within a week to ten days, however, people over age 65, or with chronic health conditions, such as cancer, are at higher risk for complications, including pneumonia. In some cases, the flu can be fatal.
Influenza causes The flu virus is spread through sneezing, coughing or other activities that release droplets of the virus into the air and onto objects that are commonly used.
Influenza symptoms Influenza begins in your nose and throat. Symptoms may include: headache; chills, cough and fever (usually high); loss of appetite; muscle aches and fatigue; runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and sore throat; nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Influenza diagnosis/tests If you have flu symptoms, the last place you want to be is sitting in a doctor’s waiting room but if you are concerned, call your doctor. With a rapid influenza diagnostic test, the results can be ready in as little as 30 minutes, although they sometimes produce false negatives. Even so, your doctor may diagnose the flu based on your symptoms. For a more accurate test, a nurse or doctor may swab your nose and throat for testing.
Influenza treatment People are exposed to different flu viruses throughout their lives, which may offer some protection against similar strains. Drinking lots of liquids, taking pain medications to reduce fever and getting rest will help relieve the symptoms. In some cases, prescription antiviral medicines may be required to aid recovery from symptoms.
Influenza prevention Frequent hand-washing and the flu vaccine will provide protection against the flu, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Regularly cleaning and disinfecting shared surfaces at home may also help guard against infection.