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Summary

Influenza is one of the most banal illnesses, but it should not be taken seriously. Every winter, the disease leads thousands of Brazilians to go to a doctor for consultation. For the majority of these people, the flu is benign, but for risk groups it can be a source of serious complications, such as for people over 60 years old, for whom the flu represents an important morbidity and mortality factor. In case of flu epidemics, the contagion rate can reach 10-20% of the population and exceed 50% in collective establishments (institutions for the elderly, boarding schools, clinics, etc.). Prevention is therefore an essential strategy in the fight against the disease and its spread.

Influenza vaccination is the most effective measure against the flu and its complications for the population. The use of antiviral drugs (amantadine/rimantadine, zanamivir, oseltamivir) on a prophylactic basis is a useful complementary means, but does not replace vaccination. These drugs, generally limited to risk groups, can in principle be used for the prophylaxis and treatment of flu in case of epidemics.

Echinacea can also be recommended as a means of natural prevention, but it cannot replace vaccination (the only effective means). Echinacea has an immunostimulating effect.

The flu virus is transmitted easily from one person to another by air through the microdroplets and particles excreted by infected people when they cough or sneeze. Unsurprisingly, hands therefore represent an important factor in the spread of the flu: in fact, they contribute to transmitting and spreading the virus through direct contact with all types of surfaces that permeate our daily lives.

Thorough hand washing is a simple, effective gesture that can limit the risk of transmission of the virus and the spread of infections in general.

Definition

Influenza is an infectious disease caused by a virus, the Influenza virus (an RNA virus, of the orthomyxovirus family).
We can distinguish different types of viruses (A, B and C), viruses of type A and B are the most common. Type A is the most virulent, and is often the source of pandemics and epidemics. Type B often leads to small outbreaks or epidemics, usually very localized and not global. According to the literature, type C has never caused major flu epidemics.

Influenza can reach the airways (nose, larynx, pharynx, lung, middle ear). The flu virus can attack both the upper respiratory tract (throat, nose) and the lower respiratory tract (lung,….).

Influenza Pandemics in the United States
The United States has had four flu pandemics in the last 100 years:
– 1918 – the Spanish Flu (in English: Spanish Flu )
– 1957 – the Asian Flu ( Asian Flu )
– 1968 – the Hong Kong Flu ( Hong Kong Flu )
– 2009 – the H1N1 flu ( H1N1 outbreak ). In 2009, the flu caused about 60.8 million patients, 274,000 hospitalizations and more than 12,000 deaths in the United States.

flu transmission

The flu virus is transmitted from one person to another through airborne particles (microdroplets) transmitted, for example, through sneezing, coughing, or a simple handshake. Therefore, the flu is a very contagious infectious disease.

A poorly cured flu can lead to a bacterial superinfection, which requires treatment based on antibiotics, which represents a particularly critical situation for risk groups.

fever and flu

A Canadian study published in 2014 showed that in cases of influenza the administration of an antipyretic (to reduce fever) increased the number of deaths by 1 to 5%. A fever, without being too high, helps the body fight the flu virus. If the temperature is lowered, the virus can easily multiply. The risk of using antipyretics is relevant due to the fact that the patient feels cured and is still contagious, which favors the emergence of flu epidemics.

Causes

As we saw in the flu definition section, this is caused by a virus called Influenza virus.
This virus can occur in different genetic forms (genotypes) and can also vary depending on the seasons (like the Spanish flu that caused millions of deaths at the beginning of the 20th century).
We can point out that unlike the viruses that cause colds (there are more than 200), the flu virus (true flu) is unique, but its “external form” can vary (genotype and phenotype) and according to the types of variations. , may prove dangerous (eg the dreaded H5N1 form of the avian flu virus in humans).

4 categories
There are 4 categories of the flu virus that cause illness (symptoms) in humans. They are type A viruses, such as the H1N1 and H3N2 viruses; and type B viruses such as Victoria and Yamagata . It is important to note that the flu vaccine includes both an A-type and a B-type strain. However, each type of virus (eg H1N1) has different strains. These flu virus strains that circulate vary from year to year. For the vaccine to be effective, it must contain the strain of virus circulating during the flu season.

Cold and the flu
virus The flu virus (influenza) leads to epidemics usually at temperatures around 0 ° C or lower in dry weather, according to a study carried out in 2016 by the Sahlgrenska hospital in Sweden and published in the specialist journal Journal of Clinical Virology .

Groups of risk

In general, people with weaker immune systems will be more likely to develop the flu, these are mainly:

– People over 60 years old
– Immunosuppressed people (AIDS, …)
– Children over 6 months and less than 2 years old
– People with chronic diseases (diabetes, Parkinson’s disease , …)
– Pregnant women (in them, the flu can lead to hospitalizations and fetal malformations), so since 2005, the WHO recommends that they be vaccinated.
In Brazil, the Ministry of Health indicates the vaccination of pregnant women for any gestational age.

– People suffering from morbid obesity

– People who have professional contact with pigs (who look after or handle pigs)

Read also: flu vaccination

Symptoms

Typical flu symptoms are as follows:

– High fever (above 39°C). The fever comes on quickly and sharply, associated with chills due to its rapid rise.

– Severe headaches ( headache )

– extreme fatigue

– Joint pain, tiredness in the limbs (legs, for example), myalgia

– dry cough

– Sore throats

– Nasal congestion ( runny nose – rhinitis )

– Nausea and vomiting, especially in children

– hoarseness

– loss of appetite

You should know that the flu can aggravate existing medical conditions such as asthma or mononucleosis.

Usually, the flu is reversed (disappearance of symptoms) after ten days. In some cases, the flu can last for 2-3 weeks.

Difference between men and women in flu symptoms (” man flu ” from English ” man flu “)
Dr. Kyle Sue of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canada, found by reviewing studies that men suffer more from the flu than women. Men are at greater risk of hospitalization and have a higher mortality rate than women with the flu. These symptoms, more pronounced in men than in women, result from a different development of the immune system in men and women. Women, who have a more robust immune system, are, on the other hand, more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases such as lupus, that is, to see their body mistakenly attacking its own cells. According to tests carried out on mice, testosterone weakens the immune defenses in males. In women with high levels of estrogen, it is easier to fight the flu virus (Influenza). Anglo-Saxons have an expression to specifically describe the male flu: “man flu”. This study was published online on December 11, 2017 in the Christmas issue of the scientific journalBritish Medical Journal ou The BMJ (DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j5560).

Diagnosis

For an exact diagnosis of the flu, it is necessary, especially for risk groups, to consult a doctor, as only he will be able to clarify whether it is a flu or a cold . The doctor will use his experience and/or biochemical analysis (with antibodies) to make the diagnosis.

Complications

The flu can trigger certain complications such as pneumonia or other respiratory disorders ( asthma ,…) and even dehydration. In the event of flu, people who are part of risk groups, such as people over 65 years old (and especially those over 80 years old), immunosuppressed people,… should pay special attention and always consult a doctor. The doctor will assist these people with greater attention, thus avoiding the most serious complications.

It is also important to point out that if the flu hits a pregnant woman, it can lead to fetal malformations (rare) and hospitalizations, which is why the WHO has recommended since 2005 that these women get vaccinated, even if in reality few women are vaccinated during the pregnancy.

When to see a doctor?

In case of flu, the groups of people listed below should immediately go to a doctor:

– People over 60 years old

– Immunosuppressed people ( AIDS ,…)

– People with chronic diseases ( diabetes ,…)

– Children under 2 years old

In addition, it is essential to consult a doctor if the symptoms mentioned below are observed, even if the patient does not belong to a risk group:

– (Very) high fever . Fever that remains above 39°C without falling (especially after taking medications such as paracetamol)

– Typical flu symptoms that persist for more than a week.

– Complications linked to a secondary infection (certainly bacterial) such as earaches, greenish or yellowish secretions,….

– Stiffness in the neck

– Difficulty breathing, vomiting, difficult swallowing, persistent cough, persistent runny nose, persistent headaches, all these symptoms can be a sign of pneumonia . In these cases it is important to go to the doctor as soon as possible.

Treatments

flu remedies

We distinguish two types of treatments in flu therapy, treatments that act on the cause and those that act on the symptoms:

1. Treatments that act on the cause

The treatments that act on the cause, mainly vaccination, are recommended, above all (according to medical advice and prescription) for risk groups or for people who professionally do not want or cannot get sick (in the event of an epidemic, for example ), but also for all those who don’t want to get the flu for whatever reason.

A. Preventive treatments

1. Flu vaccine

– Influenza vaccination is the most effective means of preventing the disease.
– Certain people, those belonging to risk groups, should be vaccinated.
– There are different brands of flu vaccines that are sold in pharmacies under medical prescription. Flu vaccines are almost always made up of an inactivated flu virus.
– The flu vaccine is effective, thanks to the activation of antibodies in the human body, specific against the flu virus. Therefore, when the flu is present in society, the vaccinated person will already have antibodies (if the vaccine is effective) to fight the flu virus.

– Influenza vaccine injection should be done every year

– The vaccine becomes effective between 15 and 20 days after the day of vaccination.

-The vaccine is 70 to 90% effective depending on the years, as this also depends on the choice of vaccine (made by the WHO in the summer).

– In obese people, the effectiveness of flu vaccination may be reduced by half. A study conducted by the University of North Carolina ( University of North Carolina ) at Chapel Hill, in the United States, found that obese people (BMI greater than 30) vaccinated against the flu were twice as likely to develop the flu compared to people with normal weight. This study was published online July 25, 2017 in the International Journal of Obesity . The hepatitis B vaccine is also known to be less effective in obese people.

2. Neuraminidase inhibitors (zanamivir, oseltamivir), ask your doctor for advice as these drugs are available on prescription.

3. M2 ion channel inhibitors (amantadine), ask your doctor for advice as these drugs are available on prescription.

4. Echinacea -based remedies , consult your pharmacist to find out which brands manufacture these remedies in your country, as they can also have a preventive effect.

5. Homeopathic remedies , consult your pharmacist to find out which brands manufacture these remedies in your country, but we do not guarantee the effectiveness of these remedies.

B Medicines that reduce the intensity of the flu, reducing the number of viruses (viral load), once this is evident:

– Neuraminidase inhibitors (zanamivir, oseltamivir [Tamiflu®]), available by prescription, talk to your doctor. Treatment based on a neuraminidase inhibitor (Tamiflu® or Relenza®) is most effective if administered within the first 48 hours after the first symptoms of influenza A are observed .

A study published in April 2014 in the British Medical Journal showed that Tamiflu was not very effective in treating the flu. According to this study, Tamiflu reduces the duration of flu symptoms from 7 days to 6.3 days, which is insignificant. Researchers also believe that Tamiflu can lead to sometimes troublesome side effects, such as nausea and vomiting.

– Inhibitors of the M2 ion channels , which inhibit the “uncoating” that is, the release of the virus in the infected cell (amantadine), sold under medical prescription, talk to your doctor.

– Medicines based on echinacea , talk to your pharmacist to find out the name of the brands that manufacture these medicines in your country. This plant can also speed healing and improve flu symptoms.

2. Medications that act on symptoms (symptomatic medication)

These remedies aim to calm pain and fever, but it’s very important to rest!

– Anti-pain and febrifuge remedies ( paracetamol )

– Medicines against coryza, taken orally (to relieve nasal obstruction)

– Anti-cough remedies to appease the cough

– Remedies for sore throats

Note: the administration of antibiotics (under strict medical prescription) is only done in case of bacterial superinfection of the respiratory tract (for example, in case of pneumonia), since the flu is a viral disease, and in this case no antibiotic is effective. > see also: flu complications: pneumonia

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Vaccination against the flu should be done every year in May (in Brazil) for those who want to avoid the flu. This vaccination is particularly recommended for the following risk groups:

– People over 60 years old

– Persons in contact with patients or health facility workers (nurses,…hospital assistants)

– People suffering from chronic diseases ( diabetes , etc.) and in particular from cardiovascular diseases. In fact, there is an increase of about 20% in cases of heart disease, such as myocardial infarction , during the flu season.

According to a study published by the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association (Canadian Medical Association Journal), in 2010, vaccination against the flu would allow a reduction of approximately 19% in the risk of occurrence of a first myocardial infarction and of approximately 30% when it is intended to protect its patients from cardiovascular risks.

Another study published in 2012, carried out by Brazilian researchers, involving 190,000 patients from public hospitals in the city of São Paulo (Brazil), reaches virtually the same conclusions as those published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Canada. The Brazilian study observed an increase of about 20% in cases of heart disease during the period from July to August (winter, in this region of Brazil). Get more information about the flu and stroke

– Pregnant women (at any gestational age)

– Women up to 45 days after giving birth

– Indian people

– Prison population (prisoners)

– Children from 6 months to 2 years

Note: in the United States, children under 2 years old must be vaccinated as indicated by the authorities; already in France (to our knowledge) there is no recommendation of this type for children of that age, only for people who have chronic diseases.

In Brazil, there are vaccination campaigns for the elderly and risk groups in several states, mainly in April and May.

Herbal medicine

A natural alternative to prevent the flu is to take remedies based on the echinacea plant .

Homemade medicine

Chicken soup can have a positive effect on the flu, especially in the chest .

Tips (therapy advice)

– Wear warm clothes and, above all, rest! In case of flu, the body uses a lot of energy to fight the aggressions (in this case, the virus). Thus, through the use of warm clothes it is possible to conserve this energy which can then be used by the body to defend itself, and through the use of warm clothes it is possible to conserve energy to fight the flu virus.

– Drink hot drinks (infusion,…), as this relieves nasal congestion, prevents dehydration and soothes the inflamed mucosa that makes up your nose and throat (some of the symptoms of the flu).

– Take a sauna, as the steam of hot water hydrates the nasal mucous membranes and improves nasal flow. If you have a runny nose, take a shower, as the water vapors coming out of the shower also have their positive effect. Take, for example, a thyme-based bath or thyme essential oil.

Prevention

A. The best and safest way to prevent the flu is the vaccine. It is made in the northern hemisphere mainly in October or November, and in Brazil in May.

B. If you have not been vaccinated or even if you have been vaccinated, but you want to avoid the flu in every way, you can prevent it by taking simple measures, such as:

– Regularly wash your hands. It is a great preventive means.

– Eat foods that help fight infections. Here are some suggestions and recommendations for foods to eat when you have the flu:

– Kiwi, orange, lemon,…: they must be consumed in large quantities, as they are rich in vitamin C.

– Carrots: rich in beta-carotene, strengthen the defenses.

– Black tea and green tea : they contain catechins, their effects are antibacterial.

– Avoid crowds, the flu virus spreads easily when people gather together.

Jeanne Kenney
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I’m a stylist trainer, a content creator, and an entrepreneur passion. Virgo sign and Pisces ascendant, I move easily between my dreams, the crazy world I want, and my feet on the ground to carry out my projects.

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