Influenza has, at some point, affected practically everyone and there are many myths and legends connected with it. Not everyone is aware that the first recorded case of influenza is dated back to between 5000 and 2000 BC in southeast Asia. Also, it is known that influenza has killed more people than wars. More than 15 million people died during the first 4 years of World War I; while between the years 1918-1919, the Spanish flu killed more than two times that within six months. Therefore, it is not wise to underestimate the power of this disease.
What causes influenza?
Influenza is an acute infection of the respiratory tract. It is caused by a virus. Viruses exist between the living and non-living world and are 1000 times smaller than bacteria. The influenza virus can infect not only humans, but also birds and mammals. Influenza first appeared a few thousand years ago, around the time of the domestication of animals. The incubation time (period of time from infection to first appearance of symptoms) of influenza is 18-24 hours.
The difference between viruses and bacteria
There are many differences between viruses and bacteria. From the laypersons‘ point of view, it is important to know that viruses are particles that are not alive unless they are in a cell. Conversely, bacteria (for example those that cause strept throat) are very similar to the cells of the human body. In order to survive, a virus must infect a cell, which is the basic building block of the human body, and use it to replicate. Outside the cell, a virus cannot survive because it is unable to create molecules that are necessary for life, such as proteins and energy. Once the virus has infected the cell, it can replicate. The infected cell often cannot fulfill its own essential functions and therefore dies and releases the replicated virus into the surrounding tissue.
Symptoms of influenza
The main symptoms of the flu are a high fever of up to 40 º C, headache, sore joints and muscles, back pain and eye pain. The symptoms often start so quickly that the patient is able to pinpoint the exact hour they began. Cough and cold are not symptoms of the flu, although they can appear but are often due to an all-around weakened immune system.
A common question about influenza is: why are so many people infected every year? The answer is quite straightfoward. The influenza virus has the ability to mutate. This means that during the course of one year the virus can change its structure in such a way that the human body cannot defend itself when it is reinfected. It is possible to be infected with 6 different types of influenza within one winter. The transmission of the virus is through aerosols, which are small particles of mucous and saliva, that are released during coughing, sneezing and even talking. These small particles can then enter the lungs of an healthy person from where they spread to the entire body. The replication of the virus damages the mucous membrane thereby causing a sore throat.
Prevention of influenza
In the winter months, it is a higher chance of becoming infected; therefore try to increase your intake of vitamins. The best source of vitamins are fresh fruits. It is also important to take care that you do not weaken your immune system. In doing so, you will decrease the risk of contracting influenza. If you begin to experience some of the symptoms of influenza, take care to decrease your contact with others, so that you do not infect them.
Treatment of influenza
Influenza requires about 14 days treatment, which includes pain and fever reduction and promotion of cough expectoration. It may occur that virus infected cells become infected by bacteria as well. In this case, the flu can become pneumonia and then it is necessary to start antibiotic medication.
Fever medication: Most commonly used medications are paracetomol , which decreases fever and also reduces pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofin or Advil, can also be used. Combination medications, such as NeoCitron, are also effective against cough, cold and fever.
Cough medication: Cough suppressants (suppress coughing) and cough expectorants (ease coughing up of mucous) are most commonly used. It is always important to know the character of the cough, whether it is non-productive (dry) or productive (coughing up mucous). Medication will be chosen based on this information.
Cold medication: Nose drops and sprays are used most often. Due to the fact that the flu is often combined with a sinus infection, it is necessary to rule out a bacterial infection. If the cold treatment is ineffective then inform your doctor who will swab your nasal cavity. The presence of a bacterial infection will require antibiotic medication.