The flu, often mistaken for a common cold, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause a mild to severe illness and, in some instances, can result in hospitalisation or even death. Understanding the symptoms of the flu and distinguishing them from a common cold is important for timely treatment and recovery. In this article, we look at the nuances of seasonal flu, the variability in its symptoms, and how to tell if what you’re experiencing is indeed the flu.

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Is Seasonal Flu A ‘Thing’?

Yes, seasonal flu is a genuine phenomenon. The term ‘seasonal flu’ refers to the influenza viruses that circulate and peak during the winter months in Australia. These viruses change and evolve over time, which is why we need annual flu vaccinations that are updated for the new strains of influenza. The flu season in Australia typically starts in May and can last until October, with the highest number of cases usually observed between June and August.

Do Symptoms Differ Among Different Flu Strains?

The core symptoms of the flu are coughing and fever, their intensity and combination can vary depending on the strain of influenza virus involved. Common signs and symptoms of the flu may include:

  • Fever, or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults.

It’s worth noting that not everyone with the flu will have a fever. The manifestation of these symptoms can differ based on the individual’s immune response and the particular strain of the virus that they’ve contracted.

Do Symptoms Change Over Time? E.g. This Year vs. Last Year

The flu virus has gained notoriety for its ability to mutate and evolve rapidly. As a result different strains of the virus can dominate from one year, to another. Consequently the severity and combination of symptoms can differ each year. For instance one year might see an increased occurrence of gastrointestinal symptoms while another could be marked by respiratory complaints.

This variability underscores the significance of receiving an annual flu vaccine. Researchers predict which strains will be most prevalent each year and design the vaccine accordingly to provide adequate protection.

How to Determine if You Have a Cold or the Flu

Differentiating between a cold and the flu can be quite tricky since both illnesses share symptoms. However there are distinctions you can look out for:

1. Onset

The flu tends to strike quickly and with significant impact. You might wake up feeling fine in the morning and become significantly ill by the afternoon. In contrast, colds usually develop gradually over a span of days.

2. Severity

Generally flu symptoms are more intense compared to those of a cold. While both may cause a congested nose, fatigue and coughing, the flu often brings along fever, muscle soreness and extreme exhaustion that can leave you bedridden for days.

3. Duration

Colds typically resolve within a week; however, the effects of the flu can linger longer with prolonged tiredness and overall feeling of being generally unwell, lasting for several weeks.

4. Complications

The flu poses a risk of severe complications such, as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections or ear infections when compared to colds which have a lower likelihood of causing such issues.

If you’re uncertain whether you have a cold or the flu, it’s always best to consult a healthcare provider. They can offer a definitive diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment. Dealing with the flu can be a recurring challenge, especially when the weather gets colder. It’s important to be able to recognise its symptoms and understand that it tends to come during seasons – this knowledge can help with detection and treatment. Getting a flu vaccine is still the way to prevent it as it provides protection against the most common strains of influenza viruses for that year. By staying informed and taking measures you can confidently navigate through flu season while keeping your health in check.
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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.

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