One of the most well known viral diseases is Influenza (flu). Individuals frequently use the name “flu” for almost any type of moderate sickness, like a cold or a stomach virus. While the symptoms are similar to the flu, having a viral infection from the actual flu virus is different. Influenza symptoms are generally more serious compared to symptoms of a cold and the influenza viral infection lasts longer. Catching the flu won’t result in vomiting or diarrhea in adults, in normal situations.
People suffering from Influenza complain of chills, high body temperature, drippy nose, a sore throat, muscle aches, severe throbbing headache, hacking and coughing, lack of strength / tiredness and generally feeling uncomfortable.
The flu changes its characteristics every year, although there is always a dominant strain. One of the most deadly flu strains is H1N1, also known as the swine flu, which caused pandemics around the world and is still showing up today as a dominant strain.
What is Influenza?
The influenza viruses is classified as an RNA viruses and there are 3 types of influenza:
Influenza Virus A
The influenza A virus is normally found in wild aquatic birds. When the Influenza Virus A finds a way to attack other species, it commonly attacks domestic poultry and is blamed for some horrible human influenza pandemics. Some of the most deadly influenza virus A pandemics are:
- H1N1 (Spanish flu and Swine flu)
- H2N2 (Asian flu)
- H3N2 (Hong Kong flu)
- H5N1 (Bird flu)
Influenza Virus B
The influenza B virus is not as common as the A virus but essentially, it targets humans almost exclusively. The only other animals that are known to be susceptible to the B virus are seals and ferrets. The B virus mutates slower but more often than the A virus, therefore it lacks genetic diversity (making it easier to fight), but due to its frequent mutations long-term immunity isn’t possible.
Influenza Virus C
The influenza C virus mainly attacks, humans, dogs and pigs. However it is not very common and does not cause severe reactions, and is mainly responsible for mild illness in children.
These 3 types of influenza virus are known to be distant relatives of the human parainfluenza viruses, which are also RNA viruses but have a different ancestry. The related virus are frequently noted as causing children’s respiratory ailments like croup, and may also result in an infection comparable to influenza in adults.
Who Can Get Influenza?
Anyone is susceptible to carry the influenza virus and as many as 33% of infected people show no signs or symptoms.
Children and elderly (especially those with some type of group caregivers) are exposed to the virus more than the general population, due to their high number of interactions with other people. Children in the age group of 6 months to 4 years and adults of age 50 and higher are encouraged to obtain the flu vaccine every year to help block the virus. Children or adults fighting immunodeficiency disease, and women who are pregnant during the flu season should also seek the vaccination from their physician or local pharmacy.
Health care professionals are more likely to come in contact with infected people, and therefore should consider vaccination as a way of preventing further transmission of the virus.
Symptoms of Influenza
Symptoms of the flu consist of chills or a chilly feeling, with fever also common when the infection is first taking hold. Many people have body temperatures ranging from 100°F to 103°F and the symptoms cause so much pain, they cannot leave bed for several days. Other general symptoms include aches and pains throughout the body, with worse pains found in the back and legs. Other symptoms of influenza include:
- High temperature and extreme chills
- Sinus blockage
- Drippy nose
- Body pain and discomfort in the joints
- Sore neck muscles and sore throat
- Inflammed and watering eyes
- Reddened eyes and skin (especially face), mouth, throat and nose
- Children may have diarrhea and abdominal pain
There are two main considerations for preventing influenza attack. One is taking the influenza vaccination and the other is controlling the infection.
Both the World Health Organization and the CDC recommend taking the influenza vaccine every year, especially for those at high risk of infection like young children, elderly adults, care givers, and those with chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. The vaccine is also credited for lowering risk of heart attack in high risk people and in preventing transmission of the virus through vaccinating health care workers.
Health care workers and hospitals work under a set of standards that controls treatment and handling of all blood, body fluids, secretions, excretions, and wound drainage but not sweat, nonintact skin, and mucous membranes. These fluids and pieces may allow transmission of the influenza virus (or other pathogens) and must be controlled. Here are some ways the standards prevent transmission of disease:
- Hand hygiene: Performed before preparing or eating food, administering medication to a patient, and after handling any secretions or excretions.
- Gloves: Use gloves when contacting blood or body fluids and always perform hand hygiene after glove removal. Gloves are only worn once, then discarded.
- Respiratory hygiene: Use the “vampire method” for containing respiratory secretions by coughing or sneezing into one’s inner elbow. If hands are involved in any way, perform hand hygiene afterward.
- Blood and body fluids: Blood and body fluids may contain infectious pathogens and should be contained safely at all times. Promptly discard per hospital policy when appropriate.
- Safe injection practices: Prevent access to needles and exposure to blood by handling syringes carefully, using them only once, and disposing of used syringes in a rigid, puncture-resistant container.
- Laundry: Do not shake linens and clothing soiled with blood, stool, or other secretions and excretions. Keep separate in a plastic bag and wash separately in soap and hot water.
- Cleaning and disinfecting: Follow routine housekeeping procedures. Clean any tools or utensils with detergent and hot water before disinfecting. Use hospital grade alcohol to disinfect flat surfaces and table tops in children’s play zones.
Most people can treat the flu own their own, at home. Stay in bed, drink fluids especially if you have diarrhea, and take over-the-counter medications (cold and flu) to reduce discomfort of the symptoms and break the fever.
If home remedy doesn’t work, or in cases of extreme fever please contact your physician immediately.