“The flu” is a type of respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. It has a lot in common with the common cold, but its symptoms tend to come on faster and be more severe. It isn’t typically serious, but it can be severe in newborns, older people, and people with immune issues.
Flu falls under theImmunity & Infectious Diseasecategory.
Last Updated: August 18 2022
“The flu” is a general term for respiratory infections caused by influenza viruses. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, which means individuals can contract the flu repeatedly. Although the flu isn’t often serious in the general population, newborns, older people, and people with immune issues can develop severe (and even life-threatening) illness.
Signs and symptoms of the flu typically include:
- fever and/or chills
- Muscle/body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
The flu shares many symptoms with the common cold. Compared to the common cold, symptoms tend to come on more rapidly and be more severe.
Most of the time, the flu is self-diagnosed and individuals never seek medical treatment. In a clinical setting, diagnosis typically involves taking a patient history and possibly performing tests (some tests provide “rapid” results that are available in less than 1 hour; some, more accurate, tests require several days). Additionally, clinicians will seek to rule out other, similar conditions, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (covid-19), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the common cold, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and bacterial pneumonia.
Getting a flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu, but it isn’t effective for treating a preexisting flu infection. Antiviral drugs (e.g., Oseltamivir, Zanamivir, Peramivir, Baloxavir) can be used to reduce the duration and severity of the flu, especially if they are administered early in the course of the illness.
Other medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen, can also be used to manage symptoms like fever, headache, and body/muscle pain.
Vitamin c and vitamin d show moderate evidence for reducing the risk of contracting upper respiratory infections (URTIs) as well as reducing the duration of URTI symptoms, although only vitamin D has been shown to lower risk of the flu specifically.
Much like the common cold, diet is connected to the flu through immunity. Diets that are sufficient in energy, micronutrients, and macronutrients are important for maintaining a robust immune system, which will help reduce the risk and severity of common flu infections. Flavonoids (plant compounds that have antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties; found in especially high quantities in tea, chocolate, capers, and oregano) may be a noteworthy nutrient for this purpose.
Basic health hygiene habits, such as covering one’s cough and washing one’s hands, are important for preventing the spread of the flu.
The flu is caused by influenza viruses, of which there are two types (A and B). Both influenza A and B viruses circulate throughout populations of humans, and are the typical cause of ordinary, seasonal spikes in flu rates. Influenza A viruses are also found in other animals — if they transfer to humans, they can cause flu pandemics, such as bird or swine flu.
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