Anyone who has ever had the flu knows how difficult it is to get out of bed. In the last outbreak of the disease, in 2021, caused by the H3N2 virus, social media was flooded with reports of people impressed by the intensity of the problem.
However, it’s no surprise that the flu causes intense symptoms that can last for more than a week. People got scared because they confuse the flu with a cold.
In Brazilian culture, any sneeze is synonymous with the flu.. From the oldest to the youngest, it is common to say that a person with a sore throat and runny nose has the flu, even if, in fact, he has a cold.
Although both diseases are viral infections, they are different.
It is caused by about 200 types of viruses, including rhinoviruses, responsible for most cases of the disease. It is exactly because there are several types of viruses that cause colds that we can get dozens of infections during our lifetime, as we do not develop lasting immunity to all types.
Colds compromise the upper airways, such as the pharynx and nose, and often cause symptoms such as:
- nasal congestion
- runny nose
- mild sore throat
- mild malaise
- low fever (when it occurs, it never exceeds 38.5º C)
The infection lasts between two and four days., in general. The person with a cold may even prefer to recover in bed, but if he has an important task, he manages to get up, even if the symptoms bother him.
Caused by influenza viruses, it causes more intense symptoms, which can affect all airways, such as the pharynx, trachea, bronchi and, occasionally, the lungs.
In most cases, the person develops, in addition to symptoms similar to those of a cold, high fever (above 38.5º C), intense body aches and malaise.
“Whoever has the flu has a fever for several days and has an important general impairment. Body aches, popularly described as ‘broker’, a very intense feeling of discomfort, a slightly numb head, compromise physical and intellectual activity”, explained the infectologist João Silva de Mendonça, in an interview with Portal Drauzio Varella.
Another common mistake is to attribute the cause of the flu to the cold. “The cold is not the cause of the flu, it just creates conditions for further spread of the virus in unventilated places where people cough, sneeze, or talk very close to each other”, explained dr. Mendonca.
The problem with confusing colds and flu is that we end up trivializing the flu, a less frequent disease, but less benign than most people imagine.
In children, elderly or immunosuppressed people, it can be a serious illness and even cause death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year more than 650,000 people die worldwide as a result of complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.
Although we have a vaccine that protects against severe flu conditions, vaccination rates against the disease remain low in Brazil.
Until May 12th, less than 30% of the target audience defined in this year’s campaign had been vaccinated – the goal was to vaccinate 90% of this group.
Thus, since May 15, the Ministry of Health has extended the flu vaccination campaign to the entire population over 6 months of age.
As the influenza virus undergoes many mutations, the vaccine is updated every year, according to the strains of the virus currently circulating; thus, it is important to get the vaccine annually.
The vaccine is safe and does not cause flu, as it is produced with inactivated viruses that are not capable of causing the disease. Possible side effects include symptoms such as local pain, low-grade fever, and mild malaise that resolve within a day or two.
The immunizers available free of charge in the SUS are trivalent (they protect against three types of the most frequent influenza virus in the country).
If you remember the last time you had the flu and not a cold, you won’t want to repeat the experience.
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