What is the flu?
People often say they have the flu when they're feeling a bit under the weather. The real flu, or influenza, has specific symptoms and is more than just a bad cold.
The flu is caused by the influenza virus. The virus settles in the lungs and can cause symptoms throughout the whole body. The flu is very contagious, you can catch it through only talking to someone who has the flu. Even the sweat of a flu patient can contain the virus. Because the flu is so contagious, a lot of people usually have it at the same time. This mostly happens during winter. 1 in 10 people get the flu each year.
What are symptoms of the flu?
- Cold chills
- Sore muscles
- Sore throat
- A cold
Often the symptoms start really rapidly, spiking a fever of 39 degrees Celsius or 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 12 hours.
Usually the most severe symptoms of the flu last for 5 days. After that they're mostly gone. It can last up to 3 weeks for all symptoms to go away, a lot of people for example remain tired for quite a while.
Is the flu serious?
The flu mostly isn't serious and goes away on its own. There's always a fever with the flu, that's no problem. A fever is nothing more than a raised body temperature, which the body uses so that the immune system can function better in order to eliminate the virus more quickly. There are no effective drugs against the flu, antibiotics aren't effective because the flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria. You can get a flu shot, which prepares your immune system for a possible infection with the influenza virus, so it can deal with it more effectively. A flu shot, after being infected with the flu doesn't work, because the immune system immediately starts fighting the virus, so preparation doesn't help anymore.
What can I do about the flu myself?
- To prevent infecting others:
- Don't leave used tissues lying around
- Avoid physical contact
- Don't share cutlery, cups or plates
- Don't prepare food for others
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, then wash your hands
- Drink lots of fluids
- Rest, it's not necessary to be in bed, but avoid physical exertion
- Though fever has its function, it has side-effects. Paracetamol (Tylenol for example) can be effective to reduce fever. Always read the patient insert before using medication!
- Stay at home until you feel better
When should I see a doctor?
Immediately contact a doctor:
- When you're coughing up mucus
- When you feel dazed
- When you have trouble breathing or feel really out of breath
- When you can't drink
- When you're urinating severely less than normal
- When the fever hasn't gone away after 5 days
- When you're fever reaches 40.5 degrees Celsius or 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit
- When fever comes back after being gone for a few days