Influenza virus flu is a highly contagious disease that can be severe. And it too can develop into a pandemic, as the Spanish flu showed almost 100 years ago. Around 50 million people were killed in the process in 1918.
Don’t underestimate the flu
Around 1,300 people die every year in Austria from the influenza virus. Basically, people over the age of 60 and those with previous illnesses have an increased risk that the illness can be life-threatening – just like with the coronavirus.
The peak of the flu season is usually late January or early February. Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) only announced yesterday, Sunday, that in December – with the onset of the flu wave – a significant additional burden on the hospitals was to be expected.
Differences in symptoms
But how do I even recognize flu? Typical symptoms are a strong feeling of illness, high fever, muscle and joint pain, boring headache, severe sore throat and often a painful cough. Other courses of illness are accompanied by a strong runny nose or diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, as pharmacist Wolfgang Lanner recently explained to SALZBURG24.
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Different incubation times
The incubation time, i.e. the period between contact with the pathogen and the appearance of the first signs of illness, is only one to two days for the flu, so the symptoms usually appear suddenly. With the coronavirus it is two to six days, in some cases it can take up to two weeks. The infection tends to worsen slowly over days.
There is no uniform, typical symptom of Covid-19. The spectrum is very broad. The most common symptoms for the coronavirus are fever, dry cough, tiredness, the loss of the sense of taste or smell, but also difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. If you suspect Covid-19 you should stay at home and call the hotline 1450 immediately – the decisive factor is whether there was possible contact with the sick. After all, only a test can provide certainty. In contrast to influenza, Covid 19 disease is contagious two days before the onset of the complaint.
Corona consequences still unexplored
How dangerous a corona infection really is and what consequential damage can occur has not yet been clearly clarified, because the Covid 19 disease has not yet been adequately researched. At first it was considered a pure lung disease that primarily affects the lower respiratory tract. However, it is now clear that the coronavirus also affects other organs and blood clotting, the German Helios clinics describe the current state of research. Accordingly, one of the decisive differences to the flu is that the population lacks basic immunity to corona. Without this, it is easier for the pathogen to spread.
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Similar medical treatment
Both diseases – flu and Covid-19 – are treated similarly. The therapy for influenza diseases is directed against the symptoms. For example, painkillers with a fever-lowering effect can be used against headaches, muscle aches and pains, as well as fever. In difficult cases, artificial ventilation is used. In addition to drug therapy, adequate fluid intake is important, especially for children. In addition, in this situation, the body needs a lot of rest to recover. This also helps to prevent possible complications, according to Austria’s public health portal.
In around 80 percent of those affected, Covid-19 takes a mild or moderate course. This means that the symptoms are rather mild and subside on their own without special treatment and without hospitalization. Diseases with a severe or fatal course occur more frequently in elderly and immunocompromised people, as well as in people with previous illnesses.
Less other infectious diseases
The pandemic protective measures are likely to have slowed down other infectious diseases significantly in the fall. At least that’s what an analysis by AOK Nordost from Germany shows. From the end of September to mid-November, 50 percent fewer AOK insured persons in the northeast were on sick leave because of the flu, as the health insurance company announced at the weekend. However, more people are likely to have been vaccinated against influenza. There are no figures on this for the region yet.
Everyday masks, frequent hand washing and distance requirements apparently also keep other infectious diseases in check more often than before: According to the AOK, sick leave due to gastrointestinal infections and pneumonia fell by a good third. In acute bronchitis, they even decreased by more than half. Such a survey is not yet available for Austria or the Province of Salzburg. “At this point in time, that is not yet informative enough,” says SALZBURG24 when asked by the Austrian Health Insurance Fund (ÖGK). It is currently too early to see any trend as to whether the contact restrictions have an impact on other infectious diseases. AGES experts are currently assuming that the influenza wave in the 2020/2021 season will come a little later and weakened due to the reduction in contact.
Protection against corona and flu
Both Covid-19 and the influenza virus spread via the same routes of infection. Therefore the protective measures are also identical:
- Keep your distance (at least 1.5 meters)
- Wear mouth and nose protection
- Reduce contacts
- Frequent and thorough hand washing
- Avoid crowds and large events
- Avoid shaking hands, hugs, etc.
- Regular ventilation
- Meet friends in the fresh air
And what about the vaccination?
Flu vaccination is controversial because influenza viruses change every year, which is why there are several variations of the disease that can occur at the same time. Because the virus is very adaptable and can mutate, the vaccine manufacturers constantly monitor the current development of the different virus strains and adapt the vaccine accordingly. However, the vaccination coverage in the population has been quite low in recent years. But that should change this year in view of the corona pandemic. Now influenza vaccines are sold out almost everywhere.
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The first vaccines for Covid-19 are available and will soon be approved in Europe. The first vaccinations should be carried out in Austria at the beginning of 2021. All hopes are on that the vaccines will help stop the spread of the pathogen in the foreseeable future.