Influenza – also called "real" flu – is a serious viral illness. Learn more about symptoms, duration, treatment, and how it differs from the common cold and covid-19 here.
By Katja Fleischmann and Isabelle Modler, dpa
Cough, cold, aching limbs: the symptoms are similar for a cold, the flu and corona, but the diseases and their course differ. What you need to know about the flu – also called influenza. What are the differences with the common cold or Covid-19?.
When is the next wave of influenza in Germany?
Flu season is the term experts use to describe the period when influenza viruses mainly circulate. If the flu occurs locally and temporally clustered, experts speak of a flu wave. There are every year in Germany – sometimes more or less strong.
According to the RKI, however, the 2020/2021 season has failed – no measurable flu wave has built up in Germany or other European countries, it says.
The flu epidemic here usually begins in January and lasts three to four months, informs the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). Sometimes the flu epidemic can start even earlier. The severity of the flu season cannot be accurately predicted.
flu, covid-19, cold: what are the symptoms? A distinction of flu-. Covid-19 symptoms is sometimes difficult. Particularly in the early phase of infection, the symptoms are very similar, explains virologist Sandra Ciesek of the University of Frankfurt. Especially at this stage, symptoms could not be distinguished with certainty without a test.
As a rough guide, the following classification may help you.
Common symptoms of Flu:
– Cough – high fever – even over 40 degrees – headache – aching limbs – severe fatigue
Common symptoms of Covid-19:
– Cough – fever – cold
Other signs may include:
– a newly appeared shortness of breath or – a shortness of breath that worsens significantly as well as – depending on the variant, the loss of sense of smell and taste
Common symptoms of a cold:
– Sneezing – aching limbs – cold – sore throat
Fever is rarely a symptom of colds, and coughing is rare.
This shows: Based on the symptoms, cold, flu and Covid-19 can not be clearly distinguished from each other. Who is not sure, should be in doubt in addition to the AHA formula – so keep your distance, observe hygiene, wear everyday mask:
– As a precautionary measure, it is better to limit contact with other people and – consult a doctor.
Important: Be sure to call the doctor's office before visiting to protect others from infection.
When should you go to the doctor with flu?
The following people with corresponding symptoms should contact their family doctor and discuss the further course of action:
– Elderly people and people with previous illnesses – such as heart or lung disease – if they have a high fever – Young children if flu is suspected – Anyone who does not fall into one of these groups, but has typical signs with a clear feeling of illness and additional complaints such as shortness of breath, circulatory problems or dizziness – Anyone who initially had a cold or less severe flu, but then gets a new bout after three to four days – pneumonia may be behind it
How to treat the flu?
Prof. Bernd Salzberger, president of the German Society for Infectious Diseases, advises, "If you are someone who is at risk for a severe course, you can take neuraminidase inhibitors". These shorten the duration and severity of the illness somewhat. "Antibiotics, on the other hand, do not help with flu."
"Otherwise, rest and drinking plenty of fluids are the most important things to do. It's best to retreat so you don't infect anyone else. Work is taboo for flu patients," is Salzberger's recommendation.
Conclusion: 3 tips for flu patients:
– stay in bed and take it easy – drink plenty of fluids – take fever-reducing medication and painkillers after consulting your doctor – these can help against high fever and pain in the limbs
Flu patients often lie flat for at least a week. This is how long it takes for the worst symptoms to subside. Coughing and exhaustion can plague sufferers for a longer time. A cold, on the other hand, usually subsides within a week.
Is a "real" flu life-threatening?
Healthy children and adults are usually unaffected by influenza infection. In some cases, however, the disease can have life-threatening consequences or lead to secondary diseases. Older people and the chronically ill, who have a weakened immune system, are particularly affected.
How the influenza viruses are transmitted?
The pathogens that cause influenza and Covid-19 are transmitted in two ways:
– through tiny droplets – for example, when a sick person sneezes and another inhales the tiny droplets – via objects on which influenza viruses are present – for example, when someone touches a door handle and later runs their nose or gets it on their mucous membranes.
Transmission via objects is not ruled out in the case of corona viruses, but is rather unlikely, according to the RKI.
Currently, there are four types of viruses that cause seasonal influenza, according to the RKI – two influenza A and B variants each. Different variants of the flu circulate around the world, and the mix can change from year to year and within a season.
By the way: According to the Federal Ministry of Health, the risk of flu infection is increased wherever there are large numbers of people – for example, on public transport, in schools or in shopping centers.
How to prevent transmission of the flu?
Protective measures that reduce the risk of corona transmission also help against the spread of flu viruses:
– Keep your distance – Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly – Ventilate rooms intensively and regularly – Wear mouth-to-nose coverings
Good to know: Infected persons can spread influenza viruses as early as one day before the onset of the illness until about a week after the first signs of illness appear, the BZgA informs.
Does a vaccination protect against the flu?
With a vaccination you can arm yourself against a flu illness. October or November is the best time for this. This protects you at the start of peak flu season around the turn of the year.
Because it takes about two weeks until the body's own protection is completely built up. This protective effect slowly decreases after about three months, explains Professor Bernd Salzberger, President of the German Society for Infectiology.
Flu waves – i.e. increased activity of influenza viruses – often start at the beginning of the year. Because these waves can then last for three to four months, according to Salzberger, vaccination can still be useful in December or even January.
According to the RKI, the seasonal influenza vaccine contains surface components of each of the four virus variants mentioned above – i.e. antigens that are expected for the coming season.
Because influenza viruses change again and again and new virus strands circulate every year – and immunity also decreases over time – it is advisable to renew vaccination protection every year.
By the way: Influenza vaccination does not protect against influenza infections. Because a cold is transmitted by other viruses. According to the RKI, a cold is possible despite vaccination. This does not speak for a lack of protective effect of the vaccination.