Infections and flu are common occurrences and can strike anybody. Mostly, flu occurs due to normal infections which are manageable with medications. However, some flu-like influenza can take a serious turn if not attended to in time. Influenza is a disease that shouldn’t be confused with infections. It can sometimes require the patients to be hospitalized and could even be fatal.
Influenza is generally caused by a virus – namely influenza viruses A & B. However, different strains of viruses could cause influenza infection in different cases. The normal symptoms associated with the influenza flu include fever, body pain, headaches, sore throat, and constant fatigue.
For most people, the flu worsens in the first 3 to 4 days and then takes about 1 to 2 weeks for the body to completely recover from the symptoms. However, in some cases, the influenza flu can take another turn by causing secondary health issues such as bacterial infections that can affect the ears, sinuses, or bronchitis. In a number of cases, influenza can get severe and cause pneumonia which can even result in death.
People with weakened immune systems such as older adults, pregnant women, infants, and children are at a higher risk of acquiring the infection and can find it difficult to even revive from the condition.
Is Influenza Contagious?
Influenza is primarily caused by the influenza virus. There are mainly two types of influenza viruses found – type A and type B. Each type A and type B virus has its own subgroups or stains. Type A virus usually causes annual flu episodes that are seasonal in nature and generally occur in the late fall and early winter seasons.
The influenza virus has the capability to change its nature and form. Getting an immunity vaccine from one strain of the virus does not guarantee protection from the other. The virus is highly contagious in nature and can spread from:
- Establishing direct contact with the infected including shaking hands.
- Small droplets of cough and sneeze from the infected carry the infection and are capable of passing on to the others
- Direct contact with the personal belongings of the infected such as their handkerchief, towel, utensils, and so on
How Long is the Virus Contagious?
If you get infected with the influenza virus you are contagious from one day before the start of the symptoms up to 7 days after the symptoms develop.
Children are more likely to be under the contagious zone even after 7 days from the start of the symptoms. The chances of the virus spreading become high since the symptoms may or may not show up early.
Flu Vaccines to Prevent the Flu From Getting Worse
The vaccines that are given to prevent influenza attacks are also known as flu shots. Since the virus changes its form and properties rapidly, every year new versions of this vaccination are developed to protect against influenza virus attacks.
Flu vaccines are normally given to patients as a preventive action and are the most effective in reducing the severity of the disease. The vaccines create antibodies against antigens entering the body after about 2 weeks of receiving the vaccination.
These antibodies fight along with the immune system against flu-causing viruses. Antibodies are nothing but globular proteins that identify and fight the germs present in the bloodstream. Once you receive the vaccination and the flu virus does enter your body, your immunity is capable of recognizing the new virus and the antibodies are immediately produced by lymphocytes to fight the viral infection.
It is highly recommended to get an annual flu vaccine to safeguard oneself from the prevalent infection-causing viruses. The flu vaccines have to be taken every year as the viruses keep changing every year and the live viruses that are injected through the vaccination begin to lose their efficacy and form.
The Types of Vaccines
The primary flu vaccines are called the ‘trivalent’ vaccines that help in protecting the body against three main flu viruses namely an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. Apart from this, there are also vaccines known as quadrivalent vaccines that help in the protection again four viruses; three being the same as the trivalent vaccine and B virus as an addition. The vaccines are available in various types mainly including the injectable form of the vaccine and the other nasal spray flu vaccine. There are various ways in which the flu shot can be administered, namely:
- The normal flu shot is given in the form of an injection into the arm muscle. It consists of inactive flu viruses which slowly develop the type of antibodies that fight the infection.
- Egg-free flu shot: This is mainly for people with allergic reactions from eggs and consists of antibodies that are not grown inside eggs as is the usual case.
- For people above 65 years of age with lower immune systems, a high-dose flu shot may be required as they need more protection compared to others.
- For people in the age group of 18 to 64 years, there is an intradermal flu shot that goes a little deep into the skin.
- The nasal spray form of the flu vaccine is in the form of a mist and doesn’t need to be injected through a needle. It’s made from live and weekend flu viruses and is recommended for people in the age group of 2 to 49 years who have developed immune systems.
Where can one get the Flu Vaccine?
To protect yourself and your family from the risk of acquiring an influenza infection, it is advisable to speak to your doctor regarding the available vaccines that can prevent the flu. To get an influenza flu vaccine you could either go to your GP or a local pharmacy. It is however advisable to go through a GP to help in ruling out any possible allergies that you could face due to the vaccination.
Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccines are in most cases safe. However, it is normal to have a few side effects. The most common side effect observed after a flu vaccine is a mild temperature. There could also be some muscular pain observed for a day or two after the vaccination has been administered. Do not take any medication for the flu unless your doctor prescribed so. If you are experiencing pain in your arms try and move them around slowly preventing them from getting stiff.
There is often a myth associated with the flu vaccines wherein many people believe that a flu vaccine could bring about flu. This is not true as the flu vaccine has no active viruses. However, getting the flu vaccine does not safeguard you from all viral infections and if you do experience flu, it could be from some other virus.
Getting an allergic reaction from the flu vaccine is not very common and in case you do experience any discomfort that you can associate with a reaction to the flu, you should report the same to your doctor immediately.
For some people, the flu medication that is administered in the form of a nasal spray can cause minor signs or symptoms like a sore throat or runny nose.
In some cases, which are rather rare, the flu vaccines can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). This is a neurological disease that can cause the body’s muscles and nerves to become extremely weak and paralytic. This condition can become serious leading to respiratory issues and is hence treated in the hospital by certified or registered respiratory therapists. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chances of acquiring GBS stand at one in a million people who were administered the swine flu medication.
Who Should Avoid the Flu Shot?
If you are allergic to chicken eggs then you should avoid taking this vaccine as the vaccine is developed in chicken eggs.
Is the Nasal Spray Vaccine Effective?
The nasal spray is a safe vaccine that can be administered to adults and kids, particularly those who have an aversion to needles. The vaccine consists of live viruses but these viruses are weak and do not have any disease-causing traits
Anna has completed her degree in Pharmacy from the University of Hawaii. She is serving as a research assistant in a pharmaceutical company. She had a great interest in writing blogs, traveling to different parts of the US, and trying delicious recipes in her spare time.