The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that’s caused by influenza viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are three types of influenza virus, influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C (though infections by C are mild). Influenza A can also break down into different subtypes; B doesn’t have subtypes, but it does have various lineages and strains. All of that adds up to several types of bugs that can make you sick each flu season.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
It can be difficult to determine whether you’ve come down with the flu or a cold—though one telltale is the severity of your symptoms. Cold symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose, and a sore throat, will be much milder than flu symptoms, which include the symptoms of a cold plus a fever, chills, headaches, and extreme fatigue. If you think you might have the flu, it’s important to see your doctor who can run tests for the virus. Check out these situations that make you think you have the flu, but you really don’t.
Signs the flu may be deadly
Signs the flu may be deadly
You get a secondary infection
The virus can become deadly when it triggers a sickness like pneumonia—inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs (which may fill with fluid). The subsequent infection can be deadly. Other serious conditions include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis), and sepsis—the body’s response to infection which triggers inflammation throughout the body and can result in organ failure or death. Keep track of the following signs to know if your flu is becoming more dangerous.
Having a hard time breathing normally—or feeling unusually short of breath—are signs that you’re experiencing flu complications, says Dr. Sonpal. This is more than a stuffy nose that makes it hard to breathe. An infection like pneumonia makes it a struggle for you to fill your lungs; you’ll be unable to take long deep breaths. Here are some signs your respiratory infection is actually pneumonia.
Chest or abdominal pain
If you experience chest pain, says Dr. Sonpal, you should consider a trip to the ER to rule out heart trouble. This could be a sign of infection such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) or pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart). If you suffer from a preexisting heart issue like congestive heart failure, an infection resulting from the flu could make conditions worse.
While Dr. Sonpal says that one of the symptoms that come with gastroenteritis is vomiting, this should only last a day or two. If it’s been more than two days, you’re vomiting blood, you have a high fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or you can’t keep liquids down for longer than a day, you should call your doctor.
You’re a certain age or size
Senior citizens (over the age of 65) and people who are overweight or obese are more likely to get the flu, warns Dr. Sonpal. These groups tend to have weaker immune systems and a lower immune response to viruses, and can therefore be at risk for complications. The CDC stresses that the elderly especially watch for secondary infections. “This is because the immune system typically weakens with age,” Dr. Sonpal says. Here’s are some ways to tell that flu season is in full effect.
You have a medical condition
“Being pregnant or having a chronic lung disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis, and cystic fibrosis are among the diseases that place someone at high risk for developing flu complications,” says Dr. Sonpal.
You’re an infant
Kids under the age of five years old—and particularly babies under two years of age—are at high risk of flu complications as well, warns the CDC. Parents: If you notice your infant has trouble breathing, has changes in skin tone to a bluish color, is extremely irritable, has a fever with a rash, is avoiding liquids, or has flu symptoms that improve but then get worse with a fever and cough, you should call your doctor immediately. Here are 10 cold and flu remedies for kids all parents and caregivers should know.
For infants err on the side of caution
Infants are still developing their immune system, so if you think a baby under two years old has the flu, you should seek medical help immediately, especially if they are unable to breathe or eat, produce no tears when crying, or has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
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What about the stomach flu?
Also known as gastroenteritis flu, this can also be caused by a virus—most commonly rotavirus and norovirus, says Niket Sonpal, MD, an NYC-based internist and gastroenterologist. “With gastroenteritis, the main symptoms someone will have include watery diarrhea and vomiting,” Dr. Sonpal says. “You might also have stomach pain, cramping, fever, nausea, and a headache.” Find out 8 ways to prevent getting the stomach flu.
RELATED: Dog flu symptoms you should never ignore
Dog flu symptoms
Dog flu symptoms
How can you tell if your dog is sick?
Dogs can be stoic and hide symptoms of disease very well, so sometimes it's hard to tell your companion is under the weather. Dr. Heather Dean of Colquitt Animal Hospital in Georgia says, "Infections can cause mild to severe illness in dogs. Some dogs may develop secondary bacterial infections which may lead to more severe illness and pneumonia." And with super common respiratory symptoms, dog flu can look like other, less serious illnesses, so it's important to address any abrupt changes or sudden onset symptoms as soon as possible. Find out the 50 secrets your dog won't tell you.
Dog flu symptom: Nasal discharge
An early symptom of canine influenza is a thick, yellow, or greenish nasal discharge. More than just a sniffle, this mucus can come on quickly and last as long as three weeks.
Dog flu symptom: Lack of appetite
While it may not be uncommon for some dogs to skip a meal, lack of appetite can also be a red flag for a more serious condition. If it's accompanied by any other abnormal behaviors or signs of illness, is unusual for your pet, or goes on for a few days, call the vet.
Dog flu symptom: Trembling or shivering
Often associated with cold, trembling or shivering is also a classic sign of fever and can also be a pain response. If your pooch has a case of the shivers but is not in a cold environment (and is not a chihuahua!), it could mean he or she has a fever.
Dog flu symptom: Lethargy
The flu can make even the most stalwart feel awful, and your dog is no exception. If your normally boisterous puppy is lying around, not interested in normal, day-to-day routines, he might be sick. Keep an eye on him and if you notice any other troubling symptoms or behaviors, it could be a symptom of dog flu.
Dog flu symptom: Increased body temperature
Normal body temperature for a healthy dog can be anywhere from 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, so a temperature of 104 to 105 is notable. They will feel warm to the touch and their gums may be dry and tacky or bright pink. Do not give your dog over the counter human anti-inflammatories for fever, as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and many other human medicines are deadly for dogs. If you think your dog has a fever, you should call your veterinarian. All dog owners should know these 12 foods that could kill your dog.
Dog flu symptom: Coughing
The most common of all dog flu symptoms is a persistent cough. This type of cough can last anywhere from 10 to 21 days and is a hallmark symptom of canine influenza. Cough should not be treated with human cough suppressants as they can harm your pooch. Seek treatment from your veterinarian.
Dog flu symptom: Glassy eyes
Similar to humans, dogs can also develop a glassy-eyed stare when they have a fever. If you suspect your pet has a fever, talk to your vet.
Dog flu symptom: Sneezing
Just like in human flu, canine influenza causes upper respiratory symptoms, including sneezing. The accompanying nasal discharge can make sneezing messy and fairly constant through the duration of the illness.
If you think your dog may be exhibiting dog flu symptoms, call your vet and schedule and appointment. When you arrive for your appointment, Dr. Dean recommends briefly leaving your dog in the car while you quickly let the receptionist know you're there. "The veterinarian may wish the pet to remain in the car until they can be moved directly into an exam room or take other precautions to prevent contaminating the lobby and infecting any patients who may be waiting to be seen." Ask the receptionist to call your phone when they're ready for you so you can sit with your dog in your car while you wait. Read these 50 secrets veterinarians won't tell you.
If your dog is unvaccinated for canine influenza, avoid dog parks and groomers, boarding facilities, and doggie daycares. Clean all leashes and toys. Also, discuss whether the dog flu vaccine is appropriate for your pup. If your dog never leaves home and doesn't come into contact with other dogs, the vaccine might be unnecessary as risk of infection is low.