Understanding Seasonal Influenza: Symptoms, Prevention, and the Role of Laboratory Testing

Every year, seasonal influenza, commonly known as the flu, affects millions of people worldwide. While it may seem like a common illness at this time of year, the flu can have serious consequences, and understanding its symptoms, prevention, and the role of laboratory testing is crucial for public health. Currently, we are facing an outbreak of influenza A nationwide, and hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed. What virus is this, how to distinguish it from others, and what should we do?

Symptoms of Seasonal Influenza:

The flu is caused by the Influenza A and B viruses, which can cause a range of symptoms, including:

Fever: high fever is a common sign of the flu, often exceeding 37.8°C;
Cough: persistent cough, sometimes accompanied by chest discomfort;
Sore throat: irritation and discomfort in the throat;
Body aches: muscle and body aches are typical flu symptoms;
Fatigue: feeling unusually tired or exhausted;
Headache: intense headaches may occur;
Chills: sudden chills;
Congestion: runny nose and nasal congestion may also be present;
Nausea and vomiting: some people with the flu may experience gastrointestinal symptoms.

Prevention of Seasonal Influenza:
Flu prevention involves a combination of vaccination and good hygiene practices:

Get vaccinated: annual flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent it. It is recommended for individuals from six months of age and older;
Hand hygiene: wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer if soap is not available;
Cover mouth and nose: when coughing or sneezing, use a tissue or elbow to cover the mouth and nose to prevent the virus from spreading;
Avoid close contact: stay away from sick people, and if you are sick, try to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus;
Clean and disinfect: regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.

Importance of Laboratory Testing:

Laboratory tests play a crucial role in diagnosing and monitoring the flu. When a patient presents symptoms similar to the flu, identifying the virus in appropriate samples (e.g., nasopharyngeal swabs) is necessary for a definitive diagnosis, preferably using molecular biology techniques, commonly referred to as PCR techniques, to detect the virus's genetic material (RNA or DNA).

These tests help healthcare providers to:

Confirm the diagnosis: laboratory tests ensure the exact confirmation of the flu, crucial for proper treatment;
Monitor outbreaks: by analyzing flu data from various regions, laboratories assist public health officials in monitoring outbreaks and evaluating the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns;
Develop vaccines: laboratories play a fundamental role in developing vaccines targeting specific strains of the flu virus each season.

In conclusion, seasonal influenza is a contagious respiratory illness with a wide range of symptoms. Prevention through vaccination and good hygiene practices is essential to reduce its impact. Laboratory tests are a vital tool for diagnosing, monitoring, and understanding the flu, contributing to public health efforts to control its spread. While rapid tests are available, they have limited sensitivity in detecting pathogens. The Dr. Joaquim Chaves Laboratory stands out for offering technically advanced analytical procedures to its clients, resulting in more accurate results, enabling precise diagnoses and more suitable therapies.

Be aware of the symptoms of seasonal influenza, and if necessary, get tested at one of our Clinical Analysis centers, spread throughout the country. Find the nearest center here.