Influenza is an infectious disease that affects birds and mammals. The most common symptoms of influenza include fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headaches, coughing, weakness, and fatigue. In some serious cases, influenza may even lead to pneumonia. Influenza should not be mistaken with the stomach flu or the twenty-four hour flu. If one is experiencing nausea and vomiting, he or she most likely has the stomach flu and not influenza.
Influenza is easily spread to others. It can be spread through the air by coughs and sneezes. It can also be spread through saliva, nasal secretions, feces, and blood. The influenza virus can remain infectious for one week at human body temperature, thirty days at temperatures at the freezing level, and indefinitely at very low temperatures. The ability of the virus to live longer in cold temperatures may be one reason influenza is more prevalent in winter. Other reasons include the fact that people are in closer contact in winter due to being indoors more, the air is drier, and people produce less mucus which limits a person’s ability to shed the virus. Thankfully, influenza can be rendered inactive through the use of disinfectants and detergents. One can decrease his or her chances of contracting influenza by maintaining good personal health and hygiene, covering one’s mouth when sneezing, washing hands frequently, and keeping surfaces such as tables and doorknobs sanitized.
While most people find having influenza an inconvenience, for some influenza can be deadly. Children and the elderly have the highest risk of becoming extremely ill from the virus. However, in recent history, no one was immune to the deadly affects of the flu. The most famous and lethal outbreak of influenza was the Spanish flu pandemic from 1918-1919. According to current estimates fifty to one hundred million people were killed worldwide. Thanks in part to vaccines; a pandemic of this magnitude will probably not happen again.
The influenza vaccine contains purified and inactivated materials from three viral strains. It is typically grown in the eggs of hens. It is most commonly given to people in high risk categories such as children and the elderly. However, those who work in environments with high risk for exposure also get vaccinated. Unfortunately, due to the rapid changes in the influenza strains, a vaccine formulated one year may be ineffective the next.
Once one contracts influenza there is not much that can be done as far as treatment options. Doctors advise getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. In addition, acetaminophen can be taken to help reduce fevers and to ease muscle aches.
Influenza can be easily contracted. However, by taking care of one’s self, frequently washing one’s hands, and sanitizing surfaces that may contain the virus, one can reduce the odds of becoming ill. Receiving the flu vaccine may be another way to protect one’s self from contracting influenza.