Facts About Flu

August 29, 2023

Influneza is an airborne infection that occurs especially in crowded and enclosed spaces.

Transmission happens by direct contact with droplets disseminated by unprotected coughs, sneezes and contamination of the hands.

It may take one to three days before a person shows symptoms, including a sudden fever, sore throat, coughs and chills. Headache, a runny nose, tiredness and body aches are frequently present as well.

Dr. Chong Pei Wen, Consultant Internal Medicine Physician from Columbia Asia Hospital - Petaling Jaya, says influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.

She says it can cause mild to severe symptoms in people of all ages.

In order to manage and stop the spread of influenza, she adds, it's essential to understand the types of influenza, the symptoms, potential complications and high-risk populations.

While influenza can be mild for some people, it can be severe and life-threatening for others.

Hospitalisation and death due to influenza occur predominantly in high-risk groups.

"The flu can lead to complications like pneumonia, the worsening of chronic medical conditions and even death in vulnerable individuals," says Dr Chong.

Elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes have a higher risk because of their weakened immune systems.

Influenza can exacerbate respiratory conditions like chronic lung disease and asthma, leading to severe breathing difficulties.

A rapid influenza diagnostic test can be performed, involving a nasal or throat swab to detect the virus within minutes. In some cases, a more detailed test may be necessary.

"If you experience flu-like symptoms and belong to a high risk group, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Early diagnosis and treatment significantly reduce the severity of illness and prevent complications," says Dr Chong.

Self quarantine
Dr Chong says in cases of mild disease, the patient is advised to drink warm water and fluids to relieve the sore throat and cough, maintain a balanced diet and get sufficient sleep and rest.

Doctors may also prescribe flu and cough medicine or even an antiviral drug. A five day self-quarantine period would also be prescribed to avoid further spreading of the virus.

In moderate-to-severe cases, doctors may admit the patient, observe them closely, and provide necessary treatment like oxygenation and nebulisation.

Dr Chong says the most effective way to prevent influenza is by getting an annual flu vaccine.

Additionally, maintaining good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with sick individuals and covering coughs and sneezes can help reduce transmission.
Be informed about influenza
Influenza viruses are categorised into three main types: A, B and C.

Type A viruses cause the most widespread influenza epidemics. Types A and B are responsible for most seasonal flu outbreaks, and influenza C usually causes milder respiratory symptoms.

Influenza viruses evolve rapidly and mutate very fast. That's why we have to take a new vaccine each year to protect against the new strains.

Most vaccines cover influenza A and B, as these are the most common infections.

Dr. Chong Pei Wen
Consultant Internal Medicine Physician
Columbia Asia Hospital - Petaling Jaya

MBBS (AIMST), MRCP (Ireland)
PDF and Online Articles:
  This article first appeared in New Straits Times, 24 August 2023.
Look for Internal Medicine in Columbia Asia?
Follow us for latest Health Tips: