Influenza: Flu Season, Symptoms And Treatment

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September to the end of February is commonly known as flu season. The symptoms begins within 1 to 4 days of being infected. Multiple people each year are infected by this popular virus, “The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, annual influenza epidemics result in about 3-5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths” (Nguyen, 2020).

Influenza begins by attacking your respiratory system, more commonly the upper respiratory tract. If the illness increases to a more serious problem it can also affect the lower respiratory tract. The sudden onset of symptoms once infected are characterized as, “fever, myalgia (muscle pain), headache, malaise (feeling of discomfort), dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea” (Ghebrehewet et al., 2016). By contracting the flu you are more susceptible to secondary illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia. More serious complications can present in higher risk groups.

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For majority of people, seven days of resting and drinking a lot of fluids is the perfect cure for the flu. Some groups of people are not that lucky to be healthy with just a few home remedies. People at risk for influenza complications, “Adults over 65 years old, individuals with heart, lung, kidney, liver, neurological diseases, diabetes, individuals with reduced immunity, pregnant women and morbidly obese individuals” (Ghebrehewet et al., 2016). The flu has been down played by a lot of people just considering it a bad cold. What is the Flu, and what does it actually do to your body?

According to Cowan & Smith (2018), “All influenza cases are caused by one of three viruses; either A,B, or C” (p.626). They belong to the Orthomyxoviridae family. These microbes are described as spherical microbes and averaging 80 to 120 nanometers in size. Each virus particle is covered with a lipoprotein envelope and has glycoprotein spikes which is obtained during viral maturation. The glycoprotein has two subunits, one makes up the spikes and the other contributes to virulence factor, “Hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N)” (Cowan & Smith, 2018, pg. 626). The hemagglutinin assist in attaching itself to the host cell receptors of the respiratory tract, which in turn facilitates viral penetration. The neuraminidase, “breaks down the protective mucus coating of the respiratory tract, assists in viral budding and release, keeps viruses from sticking together, and participates in host cell fusion” (Cowan & Smith, 2018, pg.627). Like most infections the influenza virus is smart. The ssRNA genome constantly changes it’s genetic make-up that results in the transformation of the structure of the viruses envelopes. The constant changing helps the viruses bind to multiple host cells. As the virus is attaching to the host cells, it also decreases the host response to the infection.

Scientist have learned that having the flu in the past does not mean you have built up enough antibodies to not catch it again, “the disease was worse in people who had previously experienced a seasonal flu and therefore had antibodies to other strains. In those cases, the “old” antibodies bound to the virus, but not strongly enough to initiate immunity” (Cowan & Smith, 2018, pg.629). Suffering through the horrible toll the flu takes on your body, can result in not the correct antibodies for the next breakout flu strain.

When people contract the flu and results in serious health concerns, they go to their nearest emergency room. Which puts health care workers in jeopardy of catching the virus from their patients. The world cannot afford for all health care workers to be at home sick, so how are health care facilities preventing their workers from being infected? According to Dr. Uyeki from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2017), It is recommended that all healthcare workers should annually receive the flu vaccination, persons infected should practice respiratory hygiene, cough etiquette, hand hygiene, and standard and droplet precautions should be enforced (pg. ITC39).

Infected individuals are diagnosed either by a rapid influenza test which produce results within 24 hours or a viral culture which provides results within 3 to 10 days. Clinicians have to test for which strain has the infected person contracted. Fortunately there is a vaccine for the flu, there are actually three. The major ones used in the United States are, “an intramuscular inactivated vaccine with three strains of influenza in it, an intramuscular inactivated vaccine with four strains, and a recombinant vaccine for intramuscular injection” (Cowan & Smith, 2018, pg. 629). The last choice does not contain eggs, which is ideal for people with an egg allergy. The vaccination causes antibodies to develop in your body a couple of weeks after receiving the shot. The antibodies provide protection from the infection the vaccine was made up of. Being that the flu is a virus antibiotics will not cure it, the flu will just have to run its course, but early diagnosis can make the patient eligible to receive an antiviral medication. It must be taken early, preferably the second day. The most common medication used is called Tamiflu (oseltamivir), it is also used to prevent an epidemic from occurring.

Remembering that the virus is transmitted by droplet, indirect or direct contact, hand washing, covering your cough and staying home when sick is the best way to prevent an epidemic from occurring. Receiving a yearly flu shot to help protect you from the dangerous flu season. For the seasonal flu, deaths vary yearly, “United States range from 17,000- 52,000; internationally range from 250,000- 500,000” (Cowan & Smith, 2018, pg. 630). Flu season is inevitable, but preventing people from contracting the virus or beginning an epidemic is preventable. Unfortunately, we are too familiar with epidemics and we really do not need anymore anytime soon. 


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