Flu season’s affecting lots of people this year – but how do you know if you have the flu, or if it’s just another cold virus?
Influenza is a virus that infects the respiratory system, which includes your nose, throat, lungs, and bronchial tubes. But what do the flu germs do to make you so miserable? Let’s take a look at what happens on the inside when you come in contact with the influenza virus, and how to know if you’ve got the flu or just a cold.
Flu Infection: Where Germs Are
The influenza virus spreads via large-particle respiratory droplet transmission. This occurs when a person coughs or sneezes; these droplets can then be spread onto surfaces or inhaled by another person within six feet or less. Droplets that land on surfaces like tables, phones, pens, etc. can be remain live from a few minutes to 48 hours or more, so disinfect! Germs can live longer on surfaces like stainless steel and plastic than they can on fabrics. But do you know that the most common way to spread the flu is via that good old handshake? Time to brush up on your fist bumping technique!
Flu Virus: Are You Contagious?
The time between exposure to the virus and the time you experience symptoms is called the incubation period. The incubation period for the influenza virus is one to four days, with an average of two days for adults. Once the virus enters the body, it begins to multiply. After about a day and a half, these new particles shed off their lining so that they can enter secretions such as saliva and phlegm.
Adults are contagious because of these bits of shed virus from the day before symptoms begin through five to ten days after they first start feeling sick. However, the amount of viruses that are shed decrease quickly after day three, according to the CDC.
Children are contagious longer; they can starts shedding the virus several days before symptoms develop but also continue to ten or more days after the illness.
People with a weakened immune system can continue to shed the virus up to months after the onset of symptoms.
Flu Symptoms: How Do You Know If You Have the Flu?
What makes flu symptoms different from the common cold? Flu symptoms are more severe and come on suddenly and all at once. Symptoms may include fever, headache, sore throat, fatigue, and achy muscles. Generally with the flu, you will not have sneezing or a runny or congested nose. If you wake up with just one symptom, such as a sore throat, you probably don’t have the flu. If you wake up feeling like you were hit by a truck, and have multiple symptoms all at once, suspect the flu.
Don’t forget – the flu is not the same as the ‘stomach flu’ as some people may confuse the two. Children with influenza may experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, but adults rarely have these two symptoms with influenza.
Decoding Science. One article at a time.