Influenza can be a Life Threatening Illness
Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is an illness caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract.
Compared with most other viral respiratory infections such as the common cold, flu infection often causes a more severe illness with a mortality rate of about 0.1% of people infected with the virus.
Unusually severe worldwide outbreaks (pandemics) have occurred several times in the last 100 years since the illness was identified in 1933, killing millions of people in these pandemic years and hundreds of thousands in non-pandemic years..
In humans, common symptoms of the disease are chills, then fever (usually 100F to 103F in adults), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Influenza viruses are divided into three types, designated A, B, and C. Types A and B are responsible for epidemics of respiratory illness that occur almost every winter. Type C infection usually causes either a mild respiratory illness or no symptoms at all.
Vaccinations or "flu shots" target types A and B viruses against infection. But the viruses continually change over time, usually by mutation, allowing the virus to slip past the vaccines and invade the immune system of the host (humans, birds, and other animals).
Typically the illness is transmitted from infected mammals through the air by coughs or sneezes, creating aerosols containing the virus, and from infected birds through their droppings.
The virus can also be transmitted by saliva, nasal secretions, feces and blood through direct contact or through contact of a contaminated surface which can be inactivated easily by disinfectants and detergents.
Some ways to reduce contracting influenza include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are infected, especially during the first few days when they are most likely to spread the infection.
- Wash your hands after touching an infected person or an object they have touched and after blowing your own nose. Wash hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds with soap then rinse.
- If your child is ill, wash and disinfect his or her toys after play.
- Keep your fingers away from your nose and eyes to avoid infecting yourself with viruses you may have picked up.
- Put a second hand towel in the bathroom for healthy people to use.
- Keep an eye on the humidity of your environment so that your sinuses do not dry out.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
- Stay away from people who are most vulnerable, including anyone who has asthma or another chronic lung disease.
- Eat healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep to help boost your immune system.
- Get the flu vaccine each fall (in October or November) before the flu season begins.
If you have a mild case of influenza and are not at high-risk, you can follow these steps for symptom relief:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink plenty of liquids
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco
- Follow steps given for the
For more serious cases, or if you are a high-risk, medical attention should be sought out in order to avoid any possible complications, such as:
- Sinus infections
- Ear infections
Much of the illness and death caused by influenza can be prevented by annual vaccination. Every year the WHO (World Health Organization) predicts which strains of the virus are most likely to be circulated in the next year, allowing pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines that will provide the best immunity against these strains.
Flu vaccine made from inactivated and sometimes attenuated (non-infective) virus is specifically recommended for those who are at high risk for contracting the virus or for developing serious complications as a result of infection.
Anyone at any age can have serious complications from the flu, but those at high risk include:
- People over 50
- Children between 6 months and 2 years
- Women more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season
- anyone living or working in a long-term care facility
- Anyone with chronic heart, lung, or kidney conditions, diabetes, or weakened immune system
- Anyone who will be in close contact with infected people
For proper protection, vaccines must be taken every year. Although only a few different virus strains circulate at any given time, people still become ill with the flu because the viruses are continually mutating and the antibodies in your system produced from your last vaccine declines over time.
Note: Vaccines can cause the immune system to react as if the body were actually being infected and general infection symptoms can appear, though these symptoms are usually not as severe or long-lasting as influenza.
Good personal health (proper nutrition and physical fitness) and hygiene habits are reasonably effective in avoiding and minimizing influenza along with other diseases and maladies which may come your way.
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