Influenza and You: A Guide


Pandemic is a word that brings about a sense of trepidation and fright in us all. With the recent news broadcasts regarding the H1N1 Influenza Type A, or, most notably, the swine flu, a progressively greater amount of the world’s population is considering the flu shot as a means to possibly curb the embellished illness and others like it.

Influenza is commonly misconstrued as a virus, when in reality it is an infectious disease that is the result of a viral infection. There are many strains of the disease, each of which is caused by a mutated form of a virus from the family Orthomyxoviridae, which in Greek means “Straight Mucus Virus”. There are five classifications of this virus; they are as follows: Influenzavirus A, Influenzavirus B, Influenzavirus C, Isavirus, and Thogotovirus. The first three are the ones that affect us and other mammals. Influenzavirus A infects humans, birds, and other mammals and is the cause of all known pandemics thus far. Influenzavirus B and Influenzavirus C also infect humans, but the former predominantly attacks seals whereas the latter attacks pigs.

Influenza has been infecting humans for thousands of years; the earliest report of flu-like symptoms was approximately 2400 years ago by Hippocrates. Thereafter, the flu continued, and it may have caused several pandemics, although we are not certain since its symptoms can be similar to those of diphtheria, pneumonia, and typhoid fever. Influenza was first detected again in 1580, where it began in Russia and spread throughout Europe and Africa, killing eight thousand people in Rome alone. Pandemics then occurred intermittently throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The most lethal and notorious of these diseases was the 1918 Spanish Flu. It is estimated that anywhere from twenty to one-hundred million people were killed worldwide. To put this instance in perspective, it is possible that 25 million people were killed in the first twenty-five weeks, whereas HIV and AIDS have killed 25 million people throughout the last 25 years.

Many people know the signs and symptoms of the Influenza virus, but it is important to discuss them for some may not know, and others would like to brush up on their knowledge. The most common indications of the disease are chills, fever, sore throat, weakness, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, and general discomfort.

When one is infected with influenza, they always seem to question if it would have been a good idea to get that free flu shot the local clinic was advertising a few months ago. The answer to that question is yes – and no. While a flu shot is recommended for high-risk group such as children, the elderly, and people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, influenza can still strike even after receiving the vaccine. This occurs because the vaccine is only designed for the three most prominent strains of the season; therefore, if you contract another strain, the shot is relatively useless. Also, it is possible to contract influenza prior to receiving the vaccine. This means that the strain that the vaccine is supposed to prevent infects you because it takes nearly two weeks to become acclimated to the viral strain. Certain others question the value of anti-viral medications taken while infected, such as Neuraminidase and M2 inhibitors. The former is designed to ‘stop the virus in its tracks’. It is used much more commonly than M2 inhibitors due to it being less toxic and more effective for current strains of the flu virus. While Neuraminidase inhibitors are generally effective against both Influenza A and Influenza B, they are put to better use fighting Influenza B. M2 inhibitors, on the other hand, may be effective in fighting Influenza A if taken early; they are unable to fight Influenza B, however, because the Influenza B virus does not contain M2 molecules.