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- What is Influenza?
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What is Influenza?
Influenza, most commonly referred to as the flu, is a virus which causes a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. The flu virus attacks cells in the upper respiratory tract, including the nose, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs. People with influenza usually experience flu symptoms such as muscle aches, weakness, fever, headaches, or coughing. Sometimes they may have no symptoms at all.
The influenza virus is spread either through direct contact with an infected person or through airborne transmission. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets are secreted into the air and inhaled by others, who thus become infected. Hand-to- hand contact, such as sharing household items with someone who has influenza, also spreads the virus.
Influenza is more severe than the common cold and can cause significant health complications. Influenza can occur as isolated cases, in epidemics, or in pandemics, affecting many people at once. This viral disease usually strikes during the winter months, and lasts from three to five days.
Influenza can also be followed by fatigue for up to three weeks. Sometimes, in severe cases such as the bird flu or Avian flu, the virus can result in hospitalization and even death. It affects all age groups, but is more predominant in young school children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems or chronic conditions.
The Three Types of Influenza
Type A Virus
Type A virus is responsible for worldwide influenza epidemics that occur almost every winter, which can potentially be very serious and even fatal in some cases. This virus infects people and animals such as horses, pigs, whales, seals, and birds. The ‘bird flu’ or 'Avian flu' is an example of a Type A virus, with wild birds being the natural hosts.
Type B Virus
Type B virus causes smaller, localized outbreaks, but is also often associated with increased rates of hospitalization and death. This virus usually infects people and can cause human epidemics.
Type A and B viruses are classified further into virus strains. Influenza virus strains are described as the composition of a number of different viruses so that vaccines may be developed to combat the circulating virus. New strains of the influenza virus surface and replace the older strains through a process known as antigenic drift.
Type C Virus
Type C virus, on the other hand, causes only mild symptoms of respiratory illness. This type of virus does not cause epidemics or pandemics.
Normally the symptoms of influenza can be treated without consulting a doctor through either a conventional or homeopathic cold and flu remedy, and most people do not need an official diagnosis to know that they have the flu. However, if you are coughing up heavy mucus, experiencing difficulty breathing, or have a fever over 102°F for more three days, consult a doctor for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, if flu symptoms persist for longer than a week or seem to be worsening, it is also advisable to seek medical help. The diagnosis of influenza is generally determined by the severity of the condition, but age, overall physical health, and other medical problems can also contribute to the development of more serious medical complications.
Symptoms of Influenza
Influenza may be accompanied by some or all of the following symptoms:
- Fever (usually 100° F to 103° F in adults, and often even higher in children)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches and pains
- Extreme fatigue
What Causes Influenza?
The flu virus attacks the body’s cells and mutates into different forms. Because of the numerous different strains of the virus it is not always possible to protect yourself against the virus. The influenza virus is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s secretions (such as by inhaling droplets when they have coughed or sneezed).
It can also be spread by handling objects such as crockery, cutlery, doorknobs, or telephone receivers that an infected person has been in contact with.
Help for Influenza
There are no specific treatments for influenza. The most common methods to treat flu symptoms include plenty of bed rest and drinking lots of fluids.
Common Treatments for Influenza
- An influenza vaccination (available from a pharmacy or a doctor) is generally recommended for young children, those aged 65 years or older, and people of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, or kidneys; diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia.
- Over-the-counter medication such anti-inflammatory drugs, cough syrups, decongestants, and lozenges may help to relieve influenza symptoms. While these may temporarily ease symptoms, they may cause unwanted side effects or even worsen the infection (for example, when mucus membranes are dried out by decongestants or when cough suppressant medication is used).
- Prescription medicine such as anti-viral agents may be prescribed in more severe cases of influenza to treat symptoms. It is important to remember that antibiotics cannot treat a viral infection such as influenza. Should you be taking them for a secondary bacterial infection, you can counteract the effect of antibiotics by eating yogurt with live cultures of ‘good’ bacteria after completing your course of antibiotics.
More Information on Influenza
Tips for the Prevention of Influenza
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet containing lots of vegetables, fruit, carbohydrates, and protein.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly to prevent germs from spreading.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick to protect yourself from further infection
- Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, utensils, or lipstick
- Disinfect surfaces and shared spaces regularly to reduce the risk of infection
- Increase your intake of vitamins such as Vitamin A and C, and zinc
- Get enough sleep, as a lack of sleep lowers the body’s immune system and encourages illness
- Exercise regularly to strengthen the body and boost the immune system
- Reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, listening to calming music, and meditating
- If you are at risk, consider using a homeopathic flu vaccine to help prevent influenza