Early symptoms of flu

Symptoms of flu

The early symptoms of flu are not unlike those of a common cold, such as a runny nose, a sore throat, and sneezing. However, the symptoms of the flu are more severe and develop more quickly than colds, which are usually slower to set in. The flu is also known as influenza, and it’s a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, lungs, and the respiratory system in general. Influenza viruses spread through the air in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The germs in these droplets may be subsequently inhaled directly from the air or picked up from contaminated objects by a healthy person.

The early symptoms of influenza include:

·         Fever (100˚ or higher)

·         Muscle aches, particularly in the back, arms, and legs

·         Chills and sweats

·         Headache

·         Dry cough or sore throat

·         Fatigue and feebleness

·         Nasal congestion

·         Runny or stuffy nose

·         Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children)

Though there is a lot of overlapping between symptoms of the flu and cold, it’s how these symptoms manifest that can alert to whether someone has been infected with an influenza virus.





Symptom onset


Usual (3 to 4 days)



Usual and possibly severe



Very common










Stuffed nose



Sore throat


Common and potentially severe


Mild to moderate hacking cough




Even though fever is a frequent sign of influenza, not everybody who has the flu will necessarily feel feverish. These symptoms are common to all types of influenza. There are three main types of flu; A, B, and C. Each of these types can be broken down into subtypes or strains. Influenza type A can affect birds and mammals as well as humans, which is why some subtypes are identified by their animal hosts, such as bird flu, swine flu, horse flu, dog flu, etc. in humans, several influenza A virus subtypes have been confirmed, including H1N1, H2N2, H3N2, H5N1, H7N7, H1N2, H9N2, H7N2, H7N3, H5N2, and H10N7. Flu virus that affect animals and those that affect humans are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

On the other hand, the only animal that the influenza virus B affects other than humans are seals, while influenza virus C only affects humans and pigs. Unlike A and B, type C is rare and not considered to cause epidemics. Type B can cause epidemics but not pandemics, while a new influenza A virus has the potential of causing a worldwide outbreak, which is known as a pandemic. The characteristics of a pandemic include:

·         Little to no immunity due to the newness of the virus

·         Increased risk of serious complications in healthy people

·         More severe symptoms

·         High death toll

·         Possible major impact on economy and society

Additionally, during a pandemic there may be more demand for medical services than there would be supply, leading to overwhelmed hospitals and clinics, limited reserve of effective antivirals, and lack of a vaccine in the early stages of the pandemic (cf. Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion). Fortunately, pandemics seldom occur –there have been only three in the 20th century. Nevertheless, influenza is still a yearly concern that can’t be overlooked. Some facts of seasonal flu are:

·         Usually starts in the fall and peaks in January or February

·         People may have some accumulated immunity from exposure during previous seasons

·         Patient and public needs are usually met by hospitals and healthcare providers

·         There are vaccines available

·         There usually is an adequate supply of antivirals

·         About 5% to 20% of American citizens contract the flu every year

Though flu season can be put in the same category as death and taxes, no season is exactly like the ones the preceded it. When it comes and how long it lasts are very variable factors, and it may be said that some people only find out about flu season after they begin experiencing the early symptoms of flu. Since the 1982-83 flu season, February has been the most frequent peak month of flu activity.

Times month was season peak 1982-83 through 2012-12













During flu season, only high risk groups tend to be prone to serious complications. These groups include:

·         Children and infants because they do not have fully developed immune systems.

·         Pregnant women who may be subject changes in their immune systems.

·         Elderly people who may have a weakened immune system.

·         Disabled people who have limited mobility or communication and may come in contact with sick caregiver.

·         Travelers and people who live abroad depending on the current flu threat level.

·         People with certain conditions such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or HIV/AIDS.

The above-mentioned groups are at an increased risk of developing:

·         Pneumonia

·         Bronchitis

·         Sinus infections

·         Ear infections

·         Dehydration

Young and healthy people are better able to weather the symptoms of seasonal flu, and can generally get by with:

·         Plenty of rest

·         Lots of fluids

·         Gargling salt water

·         Using a humidifier to help them breathe better

They may also be prescribed antiviral medications, cough medicine, decongestants, and so on. Since influenza is a virus, antibiotics should only be prescribed when the flu is accompanied by a bacterial infection.

These complications as well as the symptoms of the flu itself may be prevented by getting a flu shot. Since influenza virus are living and evolving entities, a new flu vaccine is required for each new season. Even if you were vaccinated for the 2012-13 seasons, you should still get the 2013-14 vaccine too –which is currently available- if you haven’t done so already. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over two months old, including pregnant women. While the shot has side effects –like all medications do- they are usually mild and temporary. Otherwise, the vaccine is perfectly safe. Flu vaccines have been the target of several myths and misunderstandings, which the CDC dispels here.