Updated 20 May 2023 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Influenza?Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the face. Once the virus enters our body, it attaches to specific cells in our respiratory tract. As the virus multiplies, it causes damage to the respiratory tract cells, making it easier for bacteria to infect our respiratory tract as well. This can lead to complications like pneumonia, which is a more severe infection in the lungs.
Types of InfluenzaIn Australia, the most common types of influenza viruses that circulate and cause seasonal flu outbreaks are typically Influenza A and Influenza B. These two types of influenza viruses are responsible for most flu cases in the country . Influenza C is Australia's least common influenza virus, and it generally causes milder respiratory illness compared to the other two types.
Influenza 2023 Symptoms and SignsInfluenza, commonly known as the flu, can cause a range of signs and symptoms. If you have the flu, you may experience a sudden onset of fever, often accompanied by chills and sweating. Headache, body aches, and fatigue are common, and you might feel weak and exhausted. A dry cough, sore throat, and nasal congestion are also typical symptoms. Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea, though these are more common in children. It's important to note that the severity and combination of symptoms can vary from person to person. If you suspect you have the flu, it is advisable to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and guidance on management.
Influenza 2023 Diagnosis and TestsThe diagnosis is typically based on a combination of clinical symptoms, medical history, and sometimes laboratory testing. Depending on your presentation, your GP may refer you for further tests, including:
A GP Clinical AssessmentDoctors often start by evaluating an individual's symptoms and medical history. They will ask about symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, and respiratory symptoms. They will also inquire about possible exposure to the flu or recent travel to areas with flu outbreaks. This information may be enough to provide a reasonably accurate diagnosis.
Rapid Antigen TestsRapid influenza diagnostic tests are commonly used in Australia to detect the presence of influenza viruses . They may also be able to see COVID, given that both viruses are prevalent in the community and can present quite similarly. These tests involve taking a respiratory sample, such as a nasal swab or throat swab, and testing for the presence of the virus. The results can be available within 15-30 minutes, helping doctors make quick decisions.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) TestsPolymerase chain reaction tests are more sensitive and specific than rapid antigen tests. They can detect the presence of influenza and other viruses in respiratory samples . PCR tests are often performed in specialised laboratories and can help identify specific viruses.
Blood TestsBlood tests, such as antibody tests, are not commonly used to diagnose influenza. They are more helpful for ruling out other potential conditions, determining previous episodes of influenza and monitoring purposes. These tests detect antibodies the immune system produces in response to an earlier influenza infection.
Influenza 2023 CausesThe influenza virus causes influenza. These viruses belong to the Orthomyxoviridae family and are categorised into three types: influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C. The leading cause of influenza is the spread of influenza viruses from an infected person to others.
How Does Influenza Spread?These influenza viruses enter the body through our nose, throat and lungs (also known as the respiratory tract). When someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets containing the virus can spread to others. When we breathe in these droplets or touch surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touch our face, we can get infected.
How Long is Influenza Contagious For?The contagious period for influenza can vary, but generally, individuals with the flu can spread the virus to others starting from one day before they develop symptoms and ranges between 1-7 days (commonly 2-3 days) after becoming sick . In some cases, particularly in children and people with weakened immune systems, the contagious period may extend even longer. It's important to note that individuals infected with the flu can be contagious before they start experiencing symptoms. This means that someone with the flu can spread the virus to others before they realise they are sick.
Influenza 2023 TreatmentsInfluenza treatment typically focuses on managing the symptoms and supporting the body's natural healing process. Here are some common treatments recommended by GPs.
Rest and FluidsGetting plenty of rest is vital to help the body recover from the flu. Adequate hydration is also essential, so it is recommended to drink plenty of fluids such as water, herbal tea, and clear soups.
Over-the-Counter MedicationsOver-the-counter medications can be used to alleviate flu symptoms. Pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce fever, relieve body aches, and alleviate headaches. Speak to your GP about the appropriate dosage and whether these medications suit you.
Antiviral MedicationsIn some cases, antiviral medications may be prescribed by a healthcare professional, particularly for individuals at higher risk of complications or with severe symptoms. Antiviral medicines, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) , can help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms if taken within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. These medications are prescription-only, and the healthcare provider may determine their use and availability based on individual circumstances.
Other Pharmacy TreatmentsOver-the-counter cough syrups or lozenges may help relieve cough symptoms. Nasal saline drops or sprays can provide relief for nasal congestion. Steam inhalation or using a humidifier helps ease congestion and soothe the respiratory tract.
RecoveryWith appropriate care and rest, most people recover well from influenza. Most people with the flu will get better independently without any long-term problems. However, the severity of flu symptoms and the overall outcome can vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience mild symptoms and recover quickly, while others may develop more severe symptoms and complications. For most healthy people, the flu usually lasts about a week, with symptoms gradually improving over time. In some cases, specific individuals may be at higher risk of developing complications from the flu. This includes young children, older adults, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic health conditions. These individuals may experience more severe symptoms and have a higher chance of developing complications like pneumonia or worsening underlying health conditions.
Prevention of InfluenzaThere are several measures individuals can take to prevent the spread of influenza and reduce the risk of catching the flu. Here are some essential preventive strategies:
VaccinationAnnual influenza vaccination is a crucial preventive measure recommended for all individuals aged six months and older . The flu vaccine is updated each year to target the most prevalent strains expected to circulate. Vaccination helps reduce the risk of contracting the flu, prevents severe illness, and decreases the likelihood of flu-related complications. It is especially important for those at higher risk, such as young children, older adults, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic medical conditions. Please speak to your GP about your eligibility for a vaccination. Find out whether you're eligible for a free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program by clicking here.
Good Hand HygienePracticing proper hand hygiene is vital in preventing the spread of influenza. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or being in public places. If soap and water are unavailable, use alcohol-based hand sanitisers containing at least 60% alcohol.
General HygieneCover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of used tissues promptly and wash your hands afterward. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands to minimise the spread of respiratory droplets.
Avoid Close ContactTry to avoid close contact with individuals who are sick with flu-like symptoms. If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home from work, school, and social gatherings to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Clean and Disinfect SurfacesInfluenza viruses can survive on surfaces for a limited time. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, to minimise the risk of transmission.
Boost ImmunityMaintain a healthy lifestyle to support your immune system. This includes getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.
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