Flu: symptoms, causes and remedies

Very contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (mouth, nose, throat). Normally it has a seasonal pattern

What is it

Influenza is a very contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (mouth, nose, throat). Normally it has a seasonal trend (in Italy from December to March).

It has a short incubation period, varying from 1 to 4 days (on average 2 days), during which infection to another person can already occur.


Three types of influenza viruses are known to date, all of the genus Orthomyxovirus: types A and B, responsible for classic flu symptoms, and type C, much less frequent for humans.

The influenza virus can be transmitted from one person to another through saliva and mucus, for example when sneezing or coughing.

Even apparently healthy people, especially in closed, humid and crowded environments, can transmit the virus because the contagion period begins a few days before the onset of symptoms and lasts for about 3-5 days.

To know how to strengthen the immune system and prevent it, read the article The flu is coming: this is how you strengthen your defenses.

Common symptoms

The most common symptoms of the flu are given in the table. Particular attention deserves very young children and the elderly, who may also show other symptoms.

Common symptoms Fever accompanied by chills

General malaise

Lack of appetite

Muscle pain


Respiratory symptoms (cough, sore throat, cold)

Exhaustion and weakness

More frequent symptoms in
young children
Vomiting and gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) with diarrhea
Most frequent symptoms in the
elderly (over 75 years)
Not high fever

Strong weakness

Slight confusion


In most cases the flu resolves in 3-5 days. However, in people already compromised, respiratory complications may occur, especially pneumonia, caused by bacterial overlap. In these cases the fever persists or reappears, the cough and the general condition worsens.

Then there are cardiac complications, which occur mainly in the elderly, and severe neurological (encephalitis), more frequent in children, but very rare.


Resting at home in the heat at least until the day after the fever disappears, is the best cure.

If the fever is high and persists above 38.5 ° C for more than 48 hours, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) can be used to lower it.

NSAIDs are also good for reddened throats, aches and headaches, while decongested can help clear the nose and sedatives or mucolytics can be used in case of coughing.

Antibiotics are not needed, as it is a viral infection, and mostly transient.

When to consult your doctor

The doctor should be consulted when the fever is very high and persists despite treatment, if symptoms appear in people who already have cardiac or respiratory complications or are weak and immunosuppressed (with reduced immune defenses).

All these people are more exposed to contagion and complications of influenza.

It is best to consult your doctor in case of diabetes or elderly people who do not eat or drink enough fluids.

All cases involving children under school age and the elderly over 65 years of age, must be supervised with greater care and children entrusted as soon as possible to the pediatrician.

Taking over a bacterial superinfection, the addition of an antibiotic may be necessary, but its intake should always take place only on doctor’s prescription

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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