The flu is an infection of the upper respiratory tract which is caused by the fast-acting and contagious influenza virus. Influenza is the formal name for the flu and this virus impacts humans all around the globe. Once an individual is contaminated by the flu, it can take between two and seven days before getting really sick. This delay is called the incubation period and is the time it takes between infection and the appearance of symptoms as the pathogen replicates and multiples. Generally, the first flu symptoms occur after two to three days.
The symptoms associated with the common cold and the flu feel similar at the beginning:
A runny nose, a sore throat, watery eyes, coughing and sneezing. With a cold, you may feel a bit "fluish", but after a few days the symptoms usually disappear and tend to be distinctly more mild.
You can recognize a the flu by the following signs and symptoms:
- a high fever which may rise to 39°C or higher within 12 hours
- cold shivers
- pounding headache
- a sore throat
- muscle aches all over the body
- runny nose
- dry cough
- diminished appetite
- feeling tired and weak
Most complaints disappear after a week but the fatigue and cough can drag on for days and sometimes weeks.
A serious case of the common cold is often confused with the flu, especially during an epidemic. Fair enough considering how similar the symptoms can be. Do you know the difference between the flu and a cold? Thanks to our overview you will no longer be mistaken.
Just to get the main flu symptoms straight:
It is clear now that the symptoms of a serious cold and the flu are very similar. How do you know then if it is the flu?
- Period of time: Someone with the flu is easily out of commission for a full week, having to book off time from their jobs. A cold usually subsides gradually over a few days and most Canadians can often function through it.
- Chance of catching the flu: The chance of catching the flu is usually higher during a flu epidemic such as the more recent H1N1 outbreak. This is because the body has yet to meet this strain of the virus and develop antibodies against it, making us more susceptible.
- The intensity of the flu: Someone who has had the flu before will no doubt recognize that their symptoms are far greater than those of the common cold. For those battling the flu for the first time, they can expect symptoms out of the norm for the common cold including high fevers, body aches and unrelenting fatigue.
- Occurrence: The onset of the flu occurs rapidly as it quickly multiples in the body. That means the symptoms we've discussed can show up within a day or two. With a cold, the symptoms develop far more gradual over the course of days.
- Type of cough: Although it does not provide a definite answer, the type of cough is indicative of the type of virus infecting the body. A dry cough or tickling cough often occurs with a flu whereas a more mild and less irritated cough may show up with the common cold.
- Fever: The simplest way to determine if you have the flu? Take your body temperature to see if you have a fever. In an adult, fevers are incredibly uncommon, but when it comes to influenza you can run a fever for a few consecutive days.
Your best weapon against the flu virus is your immune system. The higher your resistance, the smaller the chance the virus can multiply in your body. A healthy lifestyle allows you to build the defenses you need to battle the countless pathogens trying to invade the body. A few tips:
- Eat healthy and diverse foods: lots of fruits and vegetables:
- Fruit is an excellent source of vitamins and antioxidants. Lemon, blueberries and raspberries are useful to provide your immune system with an extra boost;
- Extra tip: consider starting each day with fresh lemon juice in a glass of water or a cup of tea;
- Eat dark green vegetables such as broccoli or kale. They are loaded with vitamin C and their rich colours often mean they are packed with antioxidants.
- Avoid stress;
- Get plenty of rest and sleep! Try to sleep 6 to 8 hours minimum, since a sufficient night's rest is essential for resistance against the bugs out there;
- Get into motion, preferably in the open air;
- Consider vitamin C;
- Furthermore: wash your hands and put some distance between you and coughing, sneezy people.
Research is one of the ways to demonstrate that something is effective against influenza. In a research study on 755 human adults over the course of 4 months, half taking Echinaforce and the others taking a placebo, Echinaforce was shown to reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu virus by 26%. It also helped reduce the need for co-medications such as something to help control the pain and the risk of catching another illness. It also helped protect at-risk groups including those battling stress, smokers, the sleep deprived and individuals who catch more than two colds per year, a potential sign of a weakened immune system. More info
Not only do you suffer from a sore throat, but you also feel miserable, have a fever and can't seem to shake the chills that come and go. If so, you may have the flu. Do the test and find out now!
The flu virus is transmitted via small saliva droplets in the air. These droplets are very contagious. By breathing this contaminated air, the virus penetrates the respiratory system, where can replicate itself very quickly. It is also transmitted through direct contact (kissing, shaking hands) and indirect contact (door knob, telephone).
The flu virus can be difficult to beat. So, if at any moment you suffer from flu symptoms, taking it slow will be the best remedy as you work towards recovery. Of course, it is better to avoid the illness altogether through preventative measures. This is particularly important for people who belong to one of the following at risk groups:
- Age 65 and older
- People with heart and artery diseases
- People with pulmonary diseases
- People with diabetes
- People with a reduced resistance against infections
For these individuals, the flu vaccine may be the best precautionary measure. Beware that in spite of the flu shot, you can still get the flu. The risk is higher if someone in close proximity has the flu.
Click below to download the infographic (PDF) and look what you can do to avoid the flu with our tips!
- The flu is very contagious. 1 day before your first signs or symptoms until 5 to 7 days after becoming sick
- Nasal droplets can linger in the air for up to 45 minutes after a sneeze. Therefore, crack open a window to circulate the stagnant air inside the home and consider leaving your bedroom window ajar during the night.
- On average, you may touch your face 2000-4000 times a day. Keep away! Viruses spread easily from your hands, to your mouth, eyes and nose. And be more mindful during social interactions:
- don't shake hands
- no birthday kisses
- essential hospital visits
- Your smartphone is 10x dirtier than the toilet seat! So, clean your telephone once and a while. Don't forget the taps, door knobs, light switches, handrails and of course, your keyboard!
And talking about the toilet, wash your hands for 20 seconds after going to the bathroom but also when you get home, before dinner and after being in contact with a large group of people.
When should you consult your primary care provider about the flu? In some cases, the flu does not go away by itself. Other diseases may occur that need to be treated more aggressively, such as pneumonia.
Please contact your general practitioner if you have the flu and:
- become short of breath;
- an unusual amount of mucus becomes loose while coughing;
- you become drowsy;
- you drink or urinate very little;
- the fever persists more than five days;
- you get a fever after having been fever free for a couple of days.
Please contact your general practitioner if your child has the flu and a fever in the following cases:
- If your child is younger than 2.
- if your child is older than 2 and the fever lasts longer than 3 days.