Influenza: A Complete Overview Of This Common Viral Infection
There are many viruses that can affect the human body and cause illness. Out of all the identified viruses, the most common is most certainly influenza. In 1918, the world faced an influenza pandemic, where over 50 million were killed by the infectious virus. Since this pandemic, many health organizations have started to implement surveillance programs, along with scientific programs to help identify breakthroughs in the treatment and, of course, the prevention of the virus that causes the common flu.
What Is The Influenza Virus?
The influenza virus is very common and often occurs as seasonal flu, but other categories of this virus also exist. This viral infection can be caused by a complete family of viruses, known as Orthomyxoviridae. Viruses that are classified as influenza viruses have an RNA genome that is segmented single-stranded and negative-sense.
Influenza viruses are known to have a significant effect on an infected person’s upper respiratory tract, as well as the passages found in their lower respiratory system. While the primary focuses of discussion about the danger of influenza viral infections are focused on human subjects, it is important to note that these viruses can also affect animals – leading to death and even at risk of spreading the disease to humans.
What Are The Different Types Of Influenza?
A number of different influenza viruses have been discovered to date. While there are a large variety of these viruses, the most common ones that cause the common flu in humans includes only two primary types:
- Influenza A
- Influenza B
These two types of influenza viruses can affect both humans and animals, which is why it is vital for farmers and animal owners to also recognize the symptoms of swine flu and other particular viral infections that may spread from animals to humans. Influenza A, in particular, is known to spread through birds, pigs, bats and even horses. The majority of cases where influenza B viruses are found is related to humans, as this specific type of the virus primarily infects human subjects.
How Does This Infection Spread?
It is vital for the population to understand that influenza is considered a highly contagious disease. The virus spreads from an infected person to a person who has not yet been infected with the virus. In most cases, the virus will spread after an infected person has sneezed or coughed, or when small droplets of spit exit their mouth while they are talking. When these drops of fluid from the infected person gets in contact with the mouth, nose or eyes of an uninfected person, they become at risk of developing the flu.
What Symptoms Does Influenza Cause?
The influenza virus can cause a relatively large number of symptoms to develop. Not everyone who develops the flu will develop all symptoms. Some people will experience a wider variety of symptoms. The symptoms will also be more severe in some people than in others.
Identifying the symptoms of influenza early can help a person obtain prompt treatment and help speed up the process of recovering. In most cases, symptoms will start to develop within the first four days after a person has been infected with one of these viruses.
The symptoms associated with influenza include:
- Fever or chills
- A stuffy nose
- Runny eyes
- A sore throat
- Headaches and muscle aches
- A loss of appetite
- Fatigue, often coupled with severe levels of tiredness and weakness.
Is Influenza A Serious Disease?
Healthy people tend to recover within the first ten days after symptoms start to appear when infected with an influenza virus. This, however, is not always the case. There are cases where influenza becomes more serious and leads to possible complication. In such a case, failure to attend to the disease and obtain the right treatment can lead to the potentially life-threatening condition.
The specific type of influenza virus that has infected a person is a particular element that can help determine the seriousness of the infection, as some types and strains of the virus are known to be more serious than others. Additionally, in some people, especially those with a compromised immune system, the risk of experiencing fatal complications is also higher.
The latest updates from the CDC regarding the flu and influenza epidemic has revealed that up to 646,000 individuals infected with the influenza virus die each year as a consequence of the viral infection.
How Is Influenza Diagnosed?
Diagnosing influenza plays an important role in determining the specific type of virus that has infected a person, as well as to identify the severity of the influenza infection. Additionally, since the common cold often tends to cause similar symptoms as those in a person infected with an influenza virus, an official diagnosis will help a physician determine the most appropriate line of treatment to follow.
A physician will start the diagnosis process by examining the patient and asking them about the symptoms they are experiencing. The physician will also ask the patient about their recent travels, their exposure to certain animals, and about when the symptoms started to develop.
If influenza is suspected, then the physician may order additional tests for an accurate diagnosis. These tests may use any of the following to test for the presence of an influenza virus in the patient’s body:
- Nasopharyngeal swab
- Throat swab
- Pleural fluid
- Respiratory tract tissue
- Bronchoalveolar Lavage
How Is Influenza Treated?
Pharmaceutical treatment for influenza is not always required as the majority of individuals infected with the viral disease is able to make a full recovery in just over a week. Home remedies are the best way to ease the symptoms and speed up the patient’s recovery after being exposed to the virus.
Rest and quality sleep are some of the most important steps to ensure a person is able to quickly and effectively recover. Fluids are also important to keep the body hydrated and assist with flushing out the influenza virus from the infected person’s body.
There are some drugs available that can help with the treatment of influenza. Pain medication, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, are available at a pharmacy and does not require a prescription from a physician. These medications can also help to reduce a fever, should the infected person have a fever.
In more serious cases, a patient may choose to visit their physician to obtain a prescription for antiviral drugs. These drugs help to kill the virus quicker. They can help to reduce the period of time during which the patient will experience symptoms caused by the virus by up to three days, but only when given shortly after the patient starts exhibiting symptoms caused by influenza.
How Can Influenza Be Prevented?
Prevention plays a key role in reducing the widespread prevalence of seasonal influenza. There are different ways to prevent the spreading of the virus – infected people can do their part and those not infected can implement strategies to help avoid them from becoming infected.
In those who have not yet been infected with the influenza virus, a vaccine is the appropriate and most recommended option to help reduce their risk of developing influenza. There are different types of vaccines available that can help to prevent a person from developing this viral infection after being exposed to the virus.
When opting for the influenza virus, it is important to ensure that a person obtains the vaccine a few weeks before it becomes “flu season” in their country. This would allow their body some time to utilize the vaccine in order to build up a defense mechanism against the virus that is currently causing influenza in their area.
In addition to a flu shot, practicing good hygiene habits, following a healthy diet that is high in important nutrients, and exercising more can help to keep the immune system strong and reduce the risk of becoming infected.
Individuals who are already infected should also practice good hygiene and avoid the spreading of the virus through bodily fluids while talking, coughing or sneezing.
Even though not deadly in the majority of cases, the influenza virus can cause time off from work and school, and cause a significant level of discomfort. Untreated, the infection can cause more serious complications and possibly become life-threatening. Prevention campaigns are found throughout the world to help make the world more aware of influenza vaccines that can help to reduce the risk of people becoming infected. Once infected, early identification of the virus can help prevent possible complications. Additional steps can also be taken to speed up recovery and ensure a more positive outcome.