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What Is Influenza?

Influenza or flu is caused by the influenza virus, an RNA virus of the family Orthomyxoviridae. Etymologically, the word means “influence”. It commonly occurs during winter, and can sometimes lead to fatal ramifications, like pneumonia. This is a malaise that usually does not receive much attention and often home remedies as well as proper rest are enough for treating this disease.

Causes of Influenza

The virus is aerially transmitted by coughs or sneezes, from infected bird droppings, or by transfer of body fluids. The stain can remain virile up to a week, but can be made inactive by disinfectants and detergents. In non-pandemic years, it can kill hundreds of thousands of people while in pandemic years; this number multiplies tenfold or more. Flu is usually highly infectious and can be passed on from one infected person to another.

Influenza Symptoms

Common symptoms of flu include aching in the joints, nasal blockage, headache, irritated and reddened eyes etc. Body temperature can rise to 103 °F. In order to distinguish it from common cold, which it resembles, two criteria, sensitivity and specificity, are applied, and the findings show that incidences of high fever are generally unaccompanied by flu.

However in many cases fever is a common symptom which is associated with this malaise. Strengthening one’s immune system by healthy living and avoiding contact with bodily fluids of infected people are good preventive measures.

Treatment for Influenza

Vaccination, the principal treatment, is anti-viral and of two kinds, neuraminidase inhibitors and M2 inhibitors. Oseltamivir and zanamivir are drugs of the former class, while amantadine and rimantadine belong to the latter. The former is generally preferred, mainly because it is effective against both influenza A and B. Vaccination is recommended for immunologically deficient people, and is provided free of cost in the UK.

Symptoms of flue at vaccination time are coincidences, and while vaccination does not completely protect a person from the disease, it does not cause it either. Due to its high mutation rate, vaccination is effective on the virus for not more than a few years. The World Health Organization determines what strains are likely to cause flu in any particular year, and vaccines are produced accordingly.

Rest, abstinence, medications like paracetamol etc relieve some of the more painful symptoms of influenza. It should be noted that aspirin is not to be used by children if they get flu, since it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a liver disease of fatal potency. Also, antibiotics are useless with flu because it is caused by a virus.

Panzootic influenza

This disease can spread across species, and can occur in birds, horses, pigs, camels, and aquatic mammals. The extremely virulent Asian H9N2 can cause high death rates among poultry, sometimes becoming 100% in 2 days. The Southeast Asian bird flu is caused by a highly pathogenic strain known as H5N1, which is responsible for millions of poultry deaths across the globe.

Further research

Pathogenic, immunogenic, vaccine-related and epidemiological research is currently being undertaken to study flu. The Influenza genome Project is studying the immunological effects of the virus, while a group of scientists at Ghent are developing a universal influenza A vaccine Direct and indirect costs of the flu can total billions of dollars annually in the USA alone.

Direct economic impact due to loss of productivity can be predicted to be over 700 billion dollars for serious epidemics. Preventive costs can also be very significant. Developed nations spend many billions of dollars buying vaccines to fight against the spread of influenza; mass killings of poultry, however, are not always as effective either medically or economically.

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