Influenza 101

Influenza, otherwise known as the “flu,” is an easily spread and sometimes deadly infectious disease. Causing upwards of 250,000 annual deaths worldwide and known to infect birds and animals as well as people, the flu is often hard to identify without consulting a doctor because it shares so many symptoms with the common cold and gastroenteritis, and because it has a tendency to morph, reappearing as a new “strain” especially in instances of interspecies transmission. One primary difference between flu sufferers and those infected with the common cold is the distinct correlative increase in instances of both bacterial and viral pneumonia outbreaks in the former, and this detail is one of the reasons the flu is—by comparison—so deadly.

How the Flu is Spread

Influenza is an airborne disease, which means it can be spread from one carrier to another without any physical contact or shared saliva. When an infected person coughs or sneezes the particles containing the virus are temporarily suspended in the air, if that invisible cloud of particles is then inhaled by an uninfected human, the disease will gestate and ultimately generate the same symptoms, thus the cycle continues. Other ways the flu can be spread include (but are by no means limited to): contact with contaminated surfaces, shared saliva, nasal secretions, and even bird dung.

Signs and Symptoms

While a surprising 30+ percent of people who are infected with the flu present no symptoms, those who do exhibit symptoms generally exhibit early, as soon as the day after infection in some cases, and tend to experience a sensation known as “chills” first.

Other potential flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Watery Eyes
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea and Abdominal Pain (mostly present in children)

Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that anyone in groups defined as “at risk” should get the flu vaccine.

At risk groups include:

  • Children
  • Elderly
  • Healthcare Workers
  • Chronically Ill
  • Immuno-compromised
  • People who work or live with children

For people who don’t fall into this category and for otherwise healthy individuals, certain steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of infection, although the airborne nature of the flu tends to make precautionary measures beyond vaccination difficult.

Here are some good rules to follow all year long:

  • Avoid hand/face contact
  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly with warm water and soap
  • Get out in the sun whenever possible
  • Keep blinds open don’t spend too much time in dark dank areas
  • Don’t share anything that touches the face or hands
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue, rag, etc.
  • Wash clothes in hot water when possible and use plenty of detergent