Influenza is a contagious viral illness that is difficult to distinguish from other viral illnesses during the period of epidemics. Winter months bring an increase in illnesses of the upper respiratory tract. Influenza can be quite severe with high fevers. If you become ill with influenza then it is not immediately necessary to visit a physician. The treatment of influenza should always be best rest, an increased intake of vitamins and suppression of the most severe symptoms, like high fever, sore throat or runny nose.
Types of influenza medications
Similarly to other viral infections, the treatment of influenza is based upon the suppression of symptoms. The influenza virus is a very small particle, approximately 1000x smaller than bacteria. Viruses need to infect human cells in order to survive. Once in the human cells, the virus uses it to produce molecules necessary for life, like for example proteins. Viruses are unable to produce these molecules on their own, which is why they are referred to a non-living organisms. Even though viruses are quite primitive, they have one curious ability which is the ability to mutate. Viruses are able to change their genetic make-up multiple times a year, making it impossible to directly treat this illness. Treatment of influenza is separated into two categories: one is symptomatic and the other causal.
Symptomatic treatment involves treating or suppressing the symptoms of an illness. The most important is bed rest, increased fluid intake and sleep. Fluid intake plays an important role in the treatment of influenza because it replaces fluid loss after sweating during fever. An increased intake of vitamins, in fresh fruit or in vitamin supplements, is also important. Treatment can also include suppressants of various symptoms of influenza such as medications for reducing fever, pain and cough suppressants.
Treatment of fever
For fever treatment, the medication paracetamol (Panadol-USA, Atasol-Canada) is most often used. Paracetamol reduces fever and also pain. It is extremely important to follow the daily recommended dosage of paracetamol because an overdose can cause acute live failure. This is a very rare side effect that occurs most commonly in pacients who attempt to speed up their recovery by increasing their intake of the medication over the daily recommended dosage. Other medications can also be used such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), that reduce fever and pain and have anti-inflammatory effects, which paracetamol does not have. NSAIDS, such as Ibuprofen, are often used for treatment of various inflammatory and degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal system (joint and muscle pain, tendinitis) or for headache relief.
Combinations of medications can also be used, for example treatment for cold, cough and fever. Medications in the form of hot drinks are often commonly used such as Coldrex (Czech Republic), Theraflu (USA), NeoCitran (Canada). The heat from these drinks often helps ease breathing.
It is most important to first ascertain the type of cough, whether it is dry and hacking or productive (producing mucous). A dry cough is treated with cough suppressants or medications used to treat hacking coughs. A productive coughs is treated with expectorants that will loosen mucous from the respiratory tract. It is required the follow the daily recommended dosage. Excessive suppression of coughing is inadvisable because the infected mucous can then accumulate within the respiratory tract.
A cold may or may not be a symptom of influenza. The virus can, of course, penetrate the organism through the nose or mouth. A cold is defined by the increase in secretion from the nose and the inflammation of the nasal mucosa, which are signs of infection. These symptoms are suppressed with nose drops and sprays. If the cold continues for over a week and its appearance becomes green and phlegmy, then your family doctor should be informed. Complications of the cold include sinusitis or ear infection, that is most likely caused by bacteria and therefore requires antibiotics.
Another treatment possibility is causal treatment. This means that the medication interacts directly with the virus. These medications are called antivirals. The most effective influenza antivirals are those that bind to the virus and block its interaction with the cells of the body, they are called neuraminidase inhibitors. Among this group of antivirals is Tamiflu, which became well known during the swine and avian influenza epidemics and was bought wholesale by many countries. Due to the fact that Tamiflu was not widely used, it is thought that it was a pharmaceutical gimmick. Although, this antiviral medication does block the entrance of the virus into the cell and also its release from the cell. When acted upon by the antivirals, the virus-infected cell metabolizes the virus and thus destroys it. It is important, though, that the antiviral treatment is begun within 48 hours of infection, otherwise the treatment will not be effective. Antivirals are most often used to treat at risk pacients. Within the general healthy population they are not used.
Influenza treatment and bed rest
The main treatment for influenza remains after all bed rest. If a person suffering from influenza is unable to follow this simple treatment then they are risking their health. It is unwise to underestimate influenza, seeing as it has caused many deaths in the past and present. In terms of prevention, it is most important to have a healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise, proper diet with intake of vitamins and good mental health. Specific prevention against influenza is possible by being vaccinated. This is recommended especially in the autumn months, at least two weeks before the beginning of the winter flu epidemic.