Influenza, a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by four different types of RNA viruses, continues to wreak havoc around the world. Influenza A viruses are the main culprit for severe human illness, while influenza B is responsible for a significant number of cases. These viruses cause epidemics every year, infecting millions of people and killing hundreds of thousands.
How does influenza spread?
Transmission of the influenza virus occurs when coughing, sneezing, singing or shouting infected people release droplets of the virus into the air. These virus-carrying droplets can land on cells in the nasal cavity and respiratory system that have a specific receptor on them, allowing the virus to enter and infect the host.
In addition, the virus can be spread by indirect contact. If an infected person touches a surface and then another person touches that contaminated surface before touching their nose or mouth, they can accidentally introduce the virus into their body.
Once in the cell, the virus releases a single strand of RNA that serves as a template for the host’s own messenger RNA, resulting in the rapid formation of new viral particles. The body’s immune response to a virus invasion can cause unpleasant symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, and fatigue, but it is important to note that these effects are the result of the immune system’s defense mechanisms and not the virus itself.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Flu symptoms primarily manifest as respiratory discomfort, including cough, runny nose, and sore throat, as well as fever, joint pain, lethargy, and headache. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.
In most cases, these symptoms gradually subside within a few days. However, in some people, especially the elderly, children between the ages of six months and five years, and those with weakened health and immune systems, symptoms can worsen. This can lead to complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
Treatment and prevention
Although there is no cure for influenza, there are antiviral medications that can help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. Drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) have proven effective in fighting the virus.
Vaccination remains the most effective method of flu prevention. Every year, scientists develop vaccines that target the strains of the virus that are expected to circulate in the upcoming flu season. Vaccination not only protects people from serious illness, but also helps reduce the overall spread of the virus in society.
Experts give their opinion
Dr. Emily Martin, an infectious disease specialist, stresses the importance of vaccination, “Flu vaccination is crucial to protect yourself and others from the virus. It not only reduces the chances of getting sick, but also helps prevent the spread of the virus to vulnerable groups.”
Dr. John Smith, virologist, explains, “Influenza is a constantly evolving virus, making it difficult to develop effective vaccines. However, ongoing research and surveillance allows us to stay one step ahead of the virus and adapt our vaccines accordingly.”
The devastating consequences
Each year in the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of people require hospitalization for influenza, with up to 50,000 people dying from the most severe symptoms. Worldwide, influenza epidemics affect about 5 million people each year, resulting in an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 deaths.
It is very important that people take preventive measures such as hand hygiene, covering their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and staying home when feeling unwell. In this way, we can work together to minimize the impact of this deadly virus.