The rainy season is also flu season. The flu is caused by the influenza virus that lingers in humid weather. Viruses exist all over the world and there are hundreds of thousands of different types; no matter if it is the common cold or the flu, viruses are the cause. Once we have been infected with a virus, our body will develop immunity to it. As time goes on, we may be exposed to another type of virus. The flu is spread easily through sneezing, coughing and contact with either saliva or a runny nose; that is why we get sick so often.
If you have the common cold, you may have a fever, coughing and sneezing for three to four days and then it will get better. But if you have the flu, the symptoms are more severe with higher fever and body aches, including headaches, and the fever may last longer than with the common cold – an average of five to seven days.
If your young child has a fever higher than 39 degrees Celsius for longer than 12 to 24 hours, it is recommended that you take your child to the doctor to find out what is going on. Receiving a correct diagnosis is important because many other types of illnesses also result in high grade fevers. The flu is quite easy to diagnose; a cotton swab is inserted into the nasal cavity or throat to collect mucous for testing. The result can be reported within 40 minutes.
When we have the flu, the most frequently asked question is how long does it take for the virus to spread, especially in younger, children where germs tend to spread more easily. Furthermore, in cases where many children have the flu, some schools may shutdown classes to prevent faster spread of infection amongst classmates. So many parents are probably wondering how long before it is safe to return your child to school if they have the flu. Normally, the patient is most contagious for about seven days after the first symptom appears. So if a child has the flu, it is recommended that the child should stay home for at least seven days, so that they can recover fully and not spread the virus to others.
Although the flu itself is not very harmful, it can lead to other complications especially in those people who are not as healthy or have other existing medical conditions. The flu can lead to complications such as bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, as well as epileptic episodes or even encephalitis in some patients. Complications depend on various factors based on each person’s overall well being. Those who have weakened immune systems, such as toddlers, senior citizens, or pregnant women (in the second trimester), are more susceptible. Healthy young adults can easily overcome the flu within a few days if they get lots of rest and take their medication per their doctor’s orders. The flu is something that we can shake off within one to two weeks if we take care of the symptoms, as necessary. Anti-viral medication is recommended to shorten the feverish period in some patients and the doctor may prescribe the medication for five days/ twice daily.
The flu will also cause fatigue, so a good way to counter its effects is to get enough rest in a well-ventilated area, that is adjusted to the right temperature. Make sure that you can properly cool down. If you have a high-grade fever, wipe down your body with a towel so that you release some heat. Make sure you drink a lot of fluids and eat light meals. Wash your hands often and separate out personal hygiene items to avoid spreading the flu. Wear a mask to prevent spreading the flu through coughing and sneezing. Follow the “eat hot meals, use portioning spoons, wash your hands” rule that we often hear.
The best prevention, whether it is against the flu or other illnesses, is to take good care of yourself. Exercise regularly to stay healthy, avoid coming into close contact with someone who is ill, and wash your hands before and after each meal, as well as after using the toilet. There is also a vaccine for the flu; although it is not 100% effective, it can protect against 60-70% of the time. Furthermore, if you do get the flu after you receive the vaccination, the symptoms will be less severe.
There are vaccines against both influenza A and B viruses. It is important to get vaccinated at least two weeks before the rainy season starts, in order to give your body an immune boost beforehand.
The flu vaccine can be administered to children as young as six months old. Vaccinations are available year round, but the vaccine only works for a specific period of time. The vaccination works best for the first six months and decreases in effectiveness over time, so it is best to get a new shot every year to keep your defenses up and to protect against the various strains that develop each year.
The First Class Honors M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, 2004.