Influenza: Is It Really So Trivial?

March 26, 2024

You may have heard something like “a trivial flu”. But Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to death from various causes, including encephalitis. In this article, we understand what the flu really is, what this year’s flu symptoms are, how long it lasts on average, how to treat it, the difference with flu syndromes, and whether you need antibiotics.

What is Influenza?

It is a respiratory disease, caused by influenza viruses that infect the noses, throat, and lungs, and follows a typical seasonal pattern, peaking between December and February.

People often confuse the various flu syndromes with the illness caused by the Influenza virus, which is a rather serious condition that kills about 8,000 people a year in Italy alone.

Why is it important to know this? Because it is often the most fragile who die, children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.

That is why, especially in these categories, it is best to get the seasonal vaccine.

influenza

What are the symptoms of this flu?

The onset of influenza is typically sudden and can cause a range of symptoms that include fever above 38°C, cough, sore throat, widespread muscle aches, exhaustion, and general malaise. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, but their abrupt onset often helps distinguish influenza from other respiratory illnesses.

Here’s a table outlining common symptoms of influenza:

SymptomDescription
FeverTypically high (above 100.4°F or 38°C), sudden onset, lasting 3-5 days.
CoughDry or productive cough, often severe.
Sore ThroatPain or irritation in the throat may be accompanied by difficulty swallowing.
FatigueProfound exhaustion, weakness, and lack of energy, often lasting for weeks.
Body AchesSevere muscle or body aches, particularly in the back, arms, or legs.
HeadacheIntense headaches, are often described as throbbing or pounding.
ChillsSudden onset of feeling cold accompanied by shivering or shaking.
Nasal CongestionStuffy or runny nose, often accompanied by sneezing.
Sudden OnsetSymptoms typically appear suddenly rather than gradually.
Chest DiscomfortChest discomfort or pain, is sometimes associated with coughing.
FatigueProfound exhaustion, weakness, and lack of energy, often lasting for weeks.
WeaknessGeneralized weakness or feeling of being unwell.
Nausea and VomitingSome people may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, particularly in children.
Difficulty BreathingShortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially in severe cases or in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Loss of AppetiteDecreased appetite and reduced desire to eat.

It’s important to note that not everyone with influenza will experience all of these symptoms, and the severity of symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

If you suspect you have influenza or are experiencing severe symptoms, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Also, flu symptoms may be similar to those of other respiratory viral infections, such as the common cold.

Don’t rely on do-it-yourself treatments; the best thing is to hear from your medical professional.

How long does the flu last on average?

The duration of flu symptoms can vary, but they generally last for at least 3-4 intense days with full recovery occurring within a week of their onset.

It is common, however, for a feeling of exhaustion to persist for a few days after other symptoms have disappeared.

Bacterial over-infection may also occur, which may require antibiotics, although these are often prescribed even when not needed, causing the problem of antibiotic resistance.

How do you treat the flu?

For most healthy people, treatment of influenza is primarily symptomatic and includes rest, hydration, and the use of antipyretics or painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to manage fever and pain.

In some cases, for those with pre-existing health conditions or who are particularly at risk, early antiviral treatment may be necessary.

Prevention is always ideal: avoiding contact with sick people, washing hands often, and being outdoors rather than in enclosed spaces.

Are flu and flu syndromes the same thing?

While the term “flu” refers specifically to illness caused by influenza viruses, flu syndromes can include a wide variety of respiratory infections with similar symptoms.

True flu is distinguished by the presence of high fever, general discomfort, and respiratory symptoms and is a rather serious condition that can even cause death.

Do you need antibiotics?

Antibiotics are not effective against influenza, since this is a virus and not a bacterium.

However, they can be prescribed in case of bacterial complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia that may develop after or in conjunction with the flu.

A specific swab is all that is needed to diagnose it, but it is often not administered, facilitating overuse of antibiotics.

We are with you.

We at Informed Parent are by your side throughout the parenting journey. We support you with personalized guides, classes and counseling. You will never be alone on this journey; we are with you.

SOURCES

Rosano A, Bella A, Gesualdo F, Acampora A, Pezzotti P, Marchetti S, Ricciardi W, Rizzo C. Investigating the impact of influenza on excess mortality in all ages in Italy during recent seasons (2013/14-2016/17 seasons). Int J Infect Dis. 2019 Nov;88:127-134. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2019.08.003. Epub 2019 Aug 8. PMID: 31401203.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.