Seasonal Flu 101: Everything You Need To Know

Stay healthy this season with our comprehensive guide to the flu. Learn all you need to know about seasonal flu in India, including symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

By Dr. Ravindra Mehta
19 Jan 2023

Seasonal flu or influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. It is highly contagious and can lead to serious complications, especially in vulnerable populations such as young children, elderly individuals, and those with underlying health conditions.

Flu epidemics are responsible for hospitalizations of (71,0000) and thousands (52,000) of deaths worldwide. It is important to take preventative measures, such as getting vaccinated and practising good hygiene, to protect yourself and those around you from the flu.


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We spoke to Dr. Ravindra Mehta, senior pulmonologist, Apollo Hospital, at Bannerghatta, Bengaluru regarding the severity of seasonal flu in the country.

When Is The Flu Season In India?

In India, the flu is most common during the monsoon season from June to September and the winter season from November to February. "The government of India recommends that certain high-risk groups, such as healthcare workers, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic health conditions, get vaccinated against the flu each year," says Dr. Mehta. However, the influenza vaccine is not provided as part of routine public health services in India. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has supported the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in its efforts to improve influenza surveillance in India since 2005. The ICMR surveillance network has expanded to 10 sites across the country and now uses RT-PCR tests to detect the influenza virus.


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It is difficult to estimate how common the flu is because it varies widely from year to year and from place to place. Influenza activity can range from low to high, depending on the effectiveness of the vaccine and how well it matches the circulating viruses, as well as other factors such as population immunity and the extent of viral transmission. Some years, the flu may be more widespread and cause more severe illness, while in other years it may be less common and cause milder illness. It is important to practise good hygiene, and take other preventative measures to protect yourself and others from the flu.


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Who Is At Higher Risk For Complications From The Flu?

Dr. Mehta adds, “Individuals who are pregnant or elderly are among those who should take extra precaution against getting infected with influenza. Those with weakened immune systems – due to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma – may also be more prone to having more severe reactions to the virus". Additionally, children under five years of age and adults 65 and older have a greater chance of experiencing serious complications related to the flu. “It is vitally important for all these individuals to stay away from crowds to prevent getting infected with viruses. Also, it’s advisable for them to get the annual flu vaccine, the best strategy in order to stay protected from any health risks associated with influenza. One can get the flu vaccine at the beginning of flu season, before the rainy or winter season”, he says.


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Signs And Symptoms

When it comes to seasonal flu, prevention is key. But what happens if you come down with the illness? It's important to know the signs and symptoms of seasonal flu so that you can get the medical treatment you need.

The signs and symptoms of the flu can vary in severity, but typically include:

  • Throat discomfort
  • Congestion in the nose
  • Aches and pains in the body or muscles
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting, and diarrhoea (more common in children)
  • Fever
  • Cough

Symptoms usually start within 1-4 days after being infected with the virus and can last for several days to a week or more. “Some individuals, especially those who are older or have underlying health conditions, may experience severe illness or complications such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, or sepsis”,  warns Dr. Mehta. If you experience any severe or worsening symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.


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To diagnose the flu, a healthcare provider will typically ask about your symptoms and medical history and may also perform a physical examination. They may also recommend a laboratory test to confirm the presence of the flu virus. The most common test used to diagnose the flu is a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT), an antigen detection test which can provide results within a few minutes to a few hours. Another option is a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, which is more accurate but takes longer to provide results (usually 1-2 days). In some cases, a healthcare provider may also recommend a viral culture test and serology to identify the specific type of flu virus. The sensitivity and particularity of any test for influenza depend on the type of test used, the duration of illness, and the type of samples tested.

It is important to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you think you have the flu, as antiviral medications are most effective when started within the first 48 hours of symptoms. Early treatment can help to reduce the severity and duration of the illness and may also prevent complications.


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The seasonal flu is a common occurrence every year, and it's important to stay informed about the best ways to protect yourself. While there are numerous preventative measures you can take in order to avoid contracting the virus, sometimes it’s inevitable. Luckily, there are treatments available that can provide you with some relief from the unpleasant symptoms of the flu including:

  • Antiviral medications: These prescription medications can help to reduce the severity and duration of the flu. They work best when started within the first 48 hours of symptoms and are most effective in people who are at high risk of complications or who have severe illness.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Non-prescription medications can help to relieve fever, muscle aches, and other flu symptoms. Decongestants and nasal sprays can also help to relieve congestion. “It is better to consult a doctor and refrain from self-medicating,” advises Dr Mehta.
  • Rest and fluids: Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated can help to reduce the severity of the flu and speed up recovery.


How To Avoid Spreading The Flu

When it comes to preventing the spread of the seasonal flu, good hygiene practices are key! Here are some effective measures that you can take to avoid spreading the flu:

  • Get vaccinated: The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu and reduce the risk of spreading it to others.
  • Practise good hygiene: Hands should be washed with soap and water on a regular basis, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. To limit the risk of infection, refrain from touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when sick: If you have the flu, stay home from work, school, and other public places to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose: When you cough or sneeze, use a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose to prevent droplets from spreading the virus.
  • Disinfect surfaces: Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with the virus, such as door handles, keyboards, and phones.

By following these guidelines, you can help to prevent the spread of the flu and protect yourself and those around you from illness.


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When Should I Go To A Doctor?

Winter is here and with it comes the dreaded seasonal flu. Every year, millions of people are affected by this highly contagious virus. So when should you go to the doctor if you think you've got the flu?

The answer depends on several factors, such as your age and overall health. For example, if you're an older adult or have a weakened immune system, then it's best to consult a doctor as soon as possible. The same goes for anyone experiencing severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or chest pain.

Dr. Mehta suggests, “If your symptoms are milder yet still persistent (i.e., they last more than two days), then seeing a physician could be beneficial in getting relief sooner rather than later.”


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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the flu and the common cold?

The flu is caused by the influenza virus and is typically more severe than the common cold, which is caused by various other viruses. Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, and a cough, while common cold symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, and cough.


How do I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?

The flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms, including fever, cough, and fatigue. A healthcare provider can determine the cause of your symptoms through a physical examination and laboratory testing (RT-PCR).


How long does the flu last?

The flu typically lasts for several days to a week or more, depending on the severity of the illness. Most people recover within a week, but some may have longer-lasting symptoms, such as fatigue and cough.


How long is the flu contagious?

The flu is most contagious in the first three to four days of symptoms, but some people may be contagious for longer, especially if they have a weakened immune system or underlying health condition. It is important to stay home and avoid contact with others while you have the flu to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.


When can I go back to work?

It is generally recommended to stay home from work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications. This helps to prevent the spread of the virus to others.


When is the best time to get a flu vaccine?

Flu vaccine is one of the best methods to prevent the infection from becoming contagious. The best time to get a flu vaccine is before the onset of monsoon or winters when the probability of transmission is higher.


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.


The above article is medically reviewed by Dr. Ravindra Mehta, senior pulmonologist, Apollo Hospital, Bengaluru.








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