The flu (influenza) is a serious respiratory disease caused by viruses. Influenza is very contagious. Especially in the winter months, many people get sick. Often a simple cold is misunderstood as a flu, although the differences are very large. Read here which symptoms are typical for a flu and how you can protect yourself!
- symptoms: sudden fever with chills, bone pain, irritable cough, sore throat, headache, sometimes gastrointestinal discomfort
- Infection: about the finest droplets in the air, contact with contaminated objects and surfaces
- pathogens: Influenza A and B viruses that can change rapidly (therefore no permanent immune protection)
- Prevention: Vaccination (for high-risk groups), avoid contact with infected persons, regular hand washing
- Treatment: only symptomatic with pain and fever medication (ibuprofen, paracetamol), bed rest, drink a lot
- complications: Pneumonia, sinusitis, otitis media, heart muscle inflammation, meningitis (meningitis)
Anyone who is in bed with a cough, runny nose and fever often asks himself if he is plagued by a flu or a cold (influenza infection). The most important distinguishing criterion: While you are getting worse with a cold, the flu suddenly attacks you.
Flu or cold? The main differences
“Cold” (influenza infection)
sudden fever of at least 38.5 ° C
slowly rising or no fever
Fever usually lasting longer than three days
Fever often only for a short time
severe feeling of illness
mild to moderate malaise
often nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
no gastrointestinal problems or mild nausea
then often persistent performance weakness
then quickly powerful again
The most common signs of flu are high fever, chills and a marked malaise. Often, a dry, irritable cough occurs in patients. Here are all sorts of flu symptoms at a glance:
- high fever
- dry, irritating cough
- rare cough with tough, partly bloody expectoration
- Sore throat
- sore throat
- Gastrointestinal discomfort such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- a headache
- Sensitivity to bright light (photophobia)
- bloated face
- Limb and muscle pain
Influenza: special courses
However, influenza viruses cause not typical symptoms for every person, They can spread and multiply quickly, but often trigger only minor complaints. Then, for example, flu headaches are interpreted as migraines or illness-related fatigue as occupational fatigue.
With children Flu is often accompanied by a middle ear otitis. Infants can develop a so-called pseudo-group: An inflammation of the larynx below the glottis causes a barking cough.
After a healed flu, many people feel weak and tired for some time, suffer from circulatory problems and headaches. Even if a flu sufferer has not spared enough, the disease can be prolonged. Coughing and fatigue may then last for weeks, for example. In this case one speaks of one “abducted flu”.
People with a weak immune system are at risk of the flu taking a complicated course. Endangered are children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with chronic diseases such as asthma or people who are taking immunosuppressants.
If the immune system is running at full speed due to the influenza virus infection, the body is more susceptible to other diseases. Then bacteria can more easily enter the body. One speaks of a superinfection. The first signs are a renewed fever and weakness or a coughing up again. The following complications may arise from such a bacterial superinfection:
Inflammation of the respiratory tract
Sinusitis often occurs as a bacterial superinfection in flu. People who suffer from asthma or COPD often become ill with bacteria-induced pneumonia during influenza. It is even more common than the pneumonia caused by the influenza virus itself. Bacterial pneumonia is a life-threatening complication and the leading cause of fatal flu.
In particular, children often get a bacterial otitis media in addition to the flu.
With a flu, the heart can also be affected. Inflames the heart muscle, it is called a myocarditis. In pericarditis, the pericardium is inflamed. Myocarditis is a dangerous complication as it often causes few symptoms. Occasionally, fever, chest pain and noticeable cardiac arrhythmias occur. When people who are unknowingly suffering from myocarditis make too much effort, the risk of sudden cardiac death is increased.
Pericarditis usually does not go so dramatically and heals after some time by itself. In both cases, however, hospitalization and bed rest are needed to reduce the risk of further complications.
In rare cases, influenza can cause meningitis. In addition to fever then usually occur severe head and neck pain and a “neck stiffness”. If these symptoms include confusion, drowsiness, or a seizure, it is likely that not only the meninges, but also the brain, become inflamed.
Influenza: protection against infection
If someone who suffers from the flu sneezes or coughs, the viruses fly through the air – enclosed in fine secret droplets. If the droplets are inhaled by other people, they can also get flu. Even if you touch contaminated surfaces with influenza viruses, you can get infected, for example, with doorknobs, PC keyboards, handrails in the bus, or when you shake hands with a flu patient.
You can reduce your risk of infection by choosing
- regularly wash your hands
- Do not touch your face and especially your eyes with your hands (the flu viruses are often collected with your hands and could thus reach the mucous membranes)
- refrain from shaking hands
- avoid large crowds
- keep the room air moist (dry heating air removes moisture from the respiratory tract and makes it easier for the pathogens to penetrate there)
As with any infectious disease, people who are more likely to come into contact with the virus are at risk. Therefore, there is an increased risk for people working in medical facilities such as hospitals, medical practices, nursing homes or nursing homes. But in schools, kindergartens and day care centers, the flu viruses can spread faster.
Prevent flu: vaccination
It is best to protect yourself from influenza infection by vaccination. People with a weak immune system recommend that the Standing Immunics Commission (STIKO) be vaccinated.
The cheapest time for a flu shot is in the fall. However, because the flu viruses change very quickly, the vaccine must be repeated every year to be effective. Recent studies show that an annual vaccination can further improve the protection against influenza.
What should be considered in the vaccination and more information on influenza vaccination read here: Influenza vaccine
The flu can be treated only to a limited extent on its cause. However, the symptoms can be significantly alleviated by various means.
Influenza treatment: medication
Against influenza viruses, there are special drugs that block the protein neuraminidase. These so-called Neuraminidase inhibitors prevent the flu viruses from multiplying As a result, the disease usually goes much milder and shorter. However, these only work in the first two days after the onset of symptoms. In addition, the neuraminidase inhibitors are not effective against all influenza viruses and have some side effects.
If the flu takes a complicated course, often causing bacteria in addition to the influenza viruses disease symptoms. Such bacterial superinfection can then with antibiotics to treat. These kill the bacteria, but do not work against the flu viruses.
Relief of symptoms
Various medications can reduce the flu symptoms and make the disease more bearable. Help against headaches or body aches Painkillers such as ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid or paracetamol, Attention: Children should not take acetylsalicylic acid if they have the flu. High fever can you with antipyretic drugs treat – also here the above-mentioned active ingredients help. In addition, with appropriate symptoms cough syrups or decongestant nose drops make sense.
Influenza treatment: home remedies
Home remedies are often used concomitantly with a drug therapy. The following home remedies can help to alleviate the flu symptoms:
Calf rolls are a tried and tested remedy for fever. You dip a towel in lukewarm water, wring it out and wrap it loosely around the calves. Moist calves create an evaporative cooling that cools the entire body. The fever drops.
In case of severe cough and cold, inhaling is a suitable home remedy. Inhalers are available at the pharmacy. But you can also inhale with a simple saucepan and a towel. For this purpose, water is boiled up with salt. After the water has boiled, you can add chamomile, sage or peppermint teas. Then spread a towel over your head and inhale the enriched with the ethereal plant matter water vapor for ten minutes. The process can be repeated several times a day.
Even with water baths with aroma oil additives from anise, eucalyptus, mint, pine and spruce needles, the healing aroma substances are inhaled and the respiratory tract moistened. Full baths relax and relieve the cough. However, if you have a high fever, you should not take a bath, as the circulation will then be overburdened.
In the case of flu, it is important to drink enough fluid, as the circulation through the fever loses more water. In addition, the respiratory tract can better transport the mucus, if they are well moistened. Elderberry tea, lime blossom tea, ginger tea, chamomile tea, peppermint tea, sage tea and ginseng tea are particularly supportive. Elder and linden flowers increase mucus production in the bronchi, ginger inhibits inflammation and relieves pain. Camomile also has anti-inflammatory and stimulates the immune system. Ginseng helps with exhaustion.
Chicken soup is an excellent food for infectious diseases. It supplies the body with fluid and important salts (electrolytes). In addition, the chicken soup is also said to have a certain antibacterial effect.
Influenza: disease course and prognosis
One to four days after becoming infected with the influenza virus, the first symptoms appear. However, infected individuals are often contagious even before the onset of symptoms.
The flu can take a very different course. With a normal flu, the fever disappears after five to seven days. Symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, or a feeling of weakness may last for another week or two.
In people with weakened immune systems such as children, the elderly, pregnant women or patients with chronic diseases (especially respiratory diseases), flu often lasts longer. In addition, complications can occur, which in rare cases even end in death.
Because the flu virus constantly develops new subtypes due to altered gene segments, you can catch the flu several times in your life. In contrast to other infectious diseases that you only get once, because the immune system has then developed effective protective mechanisms against the pathogen, you will not be permanently immune to flu.
This is true at least for the more common influenza A virus. However, there are several types of influenza viruses. Type B changes much more slowly, so that one usually only once in the flu from influenza B viruses, often already in childhood. The disease is usually mild.
How is a summer flu?
Also usually mild is the course of the so-called summer flu, which is actually no “real flu”. Because it is not triggered by influenza viruses, but by enteroviruses. As the name suggests, it usually occurs in the summer and is similar to a cold sickness.
How to distinguish a summer flu from a flu and information on the treatment of summer flu read in the article Summer flu
Influenza: examinations and diagnosis
Anyone who has suspected that they have been infected with the flu virus, should go to a doctor. In particular, people with an increased risk such as the elderly or the chronically ill should visit their family doctor at the first sign of flu.
In many cases, the doctor can already determine on the basis of the medical history and a physical examination, whether a patient is suffering from an influenza or just a flu infection (cold). However, if the person is very poor or at risk of developing a serious illness, it is useful to have a virus detection. If it turns out to be positive, you can start treating it immediately.
Influenza virus detection
An important indication of whether it is indeed flu viruses, is the influenza rapid test. For this test, saliva is smeared out of the nose or throat with a cotton swab and placed on a test strip. If the test turns, an influenza infection is very likely.
Sometimes, however, the material has to be sent to a laboratory where genetic analysis can identify the virus one hundred percent.
If flu viruses have been detected in a patient, the doctor must report this to the health department. Thus, precautionary measures can be taken to prevent a greater spread of the disease. In the hospital, for example, patients are isolated in a single room. Visitors and medical personnel must wear protective clothing when entering the hospital room. Regular hand washing also prevents the transmission of viruses to other people.
Influenza: The influenza virus
The flu is caused by viruses, which one scientifically as Influenza viruses designated. Overall, there are three different types of influenza viruses: A, B and C. But only influenza A viruses can be really dangerous to humans. Unlike the B viruses, which usually provoke only milder disease courses and the C viruses, which occur only very sporadically, they are responsible for the severe flu epidemics. They are very versatile and are divided into a whole lot of subgroups.
These subgroups, which are called, for example, H1N1 or H3N2, are subdivided according to the proteins on the surface of the influenza A viruses, with the help of which they can penetrate into the host cells and then be able to liberate them again. H stands for hemagglutinin, N for neuraminidase.
If the flu occurs frequently in time and place, one speaks of one epidemic, If the wave of disease exceeds countries or even continents, that is called pandemic, Flu waves occur almost every year in the winter. Every ten to 40 years there is a flu pandemic, but can run differently difficult. The “swine flu” died in 2009, 18,000 people worldwide.