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Influenza Symptoms to Look Out for and Alternative Remedies to Try

Catching the flu is usually seen as not a big deal, but it's infectious and could lead to more serious complications. Learn more about influenza symptoms and treatments.

A woman with a blanket over her shoulders, sitting while blowing her nose

Most people don’t take influenza seriously as it’s considered a common disease – a big mistake. While influenza symptoms can usually resolve on their own, in severe cases, they can persist for longer than a week without improvement. 

In early to mid-2022, Malaysia suffered from an influenza outbreak. Experts think that as the government has relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, people have begun to let their guard down, allowing the influenza virus to spread like wildfire. Adding to this is the misconception influenza is the same as the common cold or isn’t as serious as COVID-19. The truth is that the disease kills up to 650,000 people every year. 

Learn what influenza is, the symptoms to look out for, and some remedies you can take. 

What is Influenza?

A couple sitting side by side while blowing their noses
Influenza symptoms can affect anyone.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines influenza as a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.

What causes influenza? 

As the name suggests, it’s caused by the influenza virus. There are two types of the virus, A (H1N1) and B (H3N2). Between these two types, influenza A is more common.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the changes in weather conditions cause the flu. This brings six external pathogens that affect our health – Wind (feng, 风), Summer-Heat (shu, 暑), Dampness (shi, 湿), Fire (huo, 火), Dryness (zao, 燥), and Cold (han, 寒). These pathogens can affect your body individually or in combination.

What are the symptoms? 

Part of why influenza isn’t taken seriously is that most people confuse it with the common cold. Although both diseases attack the respiratory system, influenza symptoms differ from the common cold. 

SYMPTOMS INFLUENZA COLD 
Development of the Symptoms Sudden Gradual 
Aches Usual Mild 
Chills Fairly Common Uncommon 
Diarrhoea Sometimes Rare 
Fatigue Common Sometimes 
Headache Common Rare 
Nasal Congestion Sometimes Sometimes 
Loss of Appetite Common Sometimes 
Shortness of Breath Sometimes Mild 
Cough & Chest Discomfort Common Mild to Moderate 
Runny Nose & Sore Throat Sometimes Common 
Loss of Taste & Smell Sometimes Sometimes 

How influenza is diagnosed

Because of the similarities between influenza and other respiratory illnesses, it might not be easy to diagnose it based on symptoms alone. Rapid virus testing that takes around 15 minutes could be helpful. 

How does influenza spread? 

Influenza is contagious. The virus spreads from flu patients through tiny droplets they release when they cough, sneeze or talk. Healthy people will get infected when the airborne virus particles come in contact with their noses, mouths or throats.

In rare cases, the virus can spread through contact transmission. People might get the flu when they touch their mouth, nose or eyes after coming in contact with a surface or object with the virus. 

How long is the period of contagiousness? 

Adults with the flu can spread the virus at least one day before they develop symptoms. Then, they become the most contagious three to four days after the illness begins. CDC notes that immunocompromised adults and children might be able to infect others for an even longer time. 

Once exposed to the virus, a person will begin showing symptoms within one to four days. 

Who is at high risk?

A little girl sleeping sideways on her bed, holding a tissue in front of her face
Influenza symptoms can be more dangerous in children.

Influenza can happen to anyone, but some people are at a higher risk of suffering from complications. These include children younger than five years old, pregnant women, patients with chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease), and the elderly. 

What kinds of complications can influenza cause? 

For the high-risk group, influenza can lead to severe pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections. It can also make existing diseases worse, causing death.

You Can Prevent Influenza, Even During Flu Season 

TCM believes people fall ill when they have weak protective qi ( (卫气). The Lungs circulate protective qi throughout the body and within the muscles and skin to protect and regulate body temperature. If Lung qi is deficient, your immune system will be weak and you’re prone to falling ill.

Preventive actions such as washing your hands regularly, staying away from the sick, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze are simple but can go a long way. 

A qualified physician would differentiate the pathogens to treat the symptoms and prescribe suitable treatments.

Try TCM herbs and treatments

To strengthen your immune system, TCM suggests getting some sun in to boost yang qi (阳气). If you have Yang Deficiency, TCM advises you to get sufficient rest, avoid late nights and eat more vegetables and fruits. A Qi Deficiency can be managed by having meals at consistent times and exercising. 

You can also use TCM herbs like thyme (bai li xiang, 百里香) and honeysuckle flower (jin yin hua, 金银花), which have antiviral properties to combat flu. Echinacea root (zi zhui, 紫锥), eucalyptus (an shu, 桉树) and ginseng (ren shen, 人参) strengthen immunity against influenza viruses. Cordyceps (dong cong xia cao, 冬虫夏), astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪), and Solomon’s seal (yu zhu, 玉竹) help reinforce qi. However, consult with a certified TCM practitioner before consuming these herbs. 

Massaging a few acupressure points consistently will help improve your overall well-being too. The acupoints to work on are he gu (LI04, 合谷), zu san li (ST36, 足三里), and wai guan (SJTE05, 外关).

Additionally, getting a flu vaccine every year can help prevent it while reducing the risk of complications. This is because flu shots enable the body’s immune system to recognise the virus.

However, as we’ve learned from the pandemic, the virus can mutate. As a result, the body’s immune system won’t be able to recognise it.

What to Do If You Have Influenza Symptoms? 

Influenza can be treated by: 

  1. Taking medications 
  2. Getting enough rest 
  3. Eating a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables 
  4. Drinking plenty of water 
  5. Taking prescribed antiviral drugs within the first two days of symptoms, when needed 
  6. Drink wolfberry and chrysanthemum tea (gou qi ju hua cha, 枸杞菊花茶), which can be effective in treating fever, headache and coughs.

Don’t self-diagnose your condition. Influenza symptoms can resemble the common cold but may worsen over time. Follow lifestyle measures to reduce risk, and if you have concerns about your symptoms, schedule a visit with your doctor. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “流行性感冒 (Influenza)”, which first appeared on the Health123 website.

References

  1. New Straits Times. 2022. #HEALTH: Remain vigilant against influenza. [Accessed on 16 August 2022] 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Key Facts about Influenza (Flu). [Accessed on 16 August 2022] 
  3. Sage Journals. 2020. Traditional Herbal Medicine for the Prevention and Treatment of Cold and Flu in the Autumn of 2020, Overlapped With COVID-19. [Accessed on 23 August 2022] 

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