Every year brings with it the threat of a new strain of the flu virus. In some cases, the flu virus starts off as a dangerous strain that causes many fatalities or cases of severe illness in the setting of its initial outbreak. As the flu virus spreads, it becomes less severe and less likely to become fatal.
Evolution of a Virus
It is normal for a flu virus to mutate into a less severe form of illness as time goes on. This is a normal evolutionary change the virus makes in response to its host’s death. The flu virus benefits from a host that remains alive and able to spread the virus to other hosts. This allows for further reproduction of the virus. It is likely that the swine flu is not as nearly severe as it was when first reported in the news.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. The onset of the flu can be rather quick and may include the following symptoms:
- Headache and fever
- Runny and stuffy nose, sore throat, and coughing
- General body aches and fatigue
- Diarrhea and vomiting in children, although this may occur in some adults
While anyone can get the flu, some people are at a greater risk:
- Pregnant women
- Adults over the age of 65
- Those with chronic medical conditions including asthma, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, heart disease, and other disorders
Influenza may worsen chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Influenza may weaken the immune system enough for bacterial pneumonia to develop. Complications with the sinuses and ears may also arise. Dehydration may occur, especially if nausea and vomiting are present.
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Prevention truly is the best medicine. Those infected with the flu can spread the virus one day before symptoms appear until five days after the onset of illness. Since influenza is a respiratory illness, it is easily spread through coughing and sneezing.
The mouth should be covered while coughing and sneezing to prevent droplets from spreading through the air. Those who are ill should refrain from coughing into their hands because germs are often spread by touching shared objects followed by touching the eyes and mouth. Coughing or sneezing into one’s armpit or tissue greatly reduces the chance of spreading the virus.
The flu vaccination is offered every year to the public. This can be given in the form of a flu shot or a nasal spray. The vaccine contains a dead flu virus. While the virus is dead, some people may experience mild flu symptoms as the body responds to the foreign virus and builds antibodies. This is because symptoms are usually caused by the body’s response to the virus rather than the virus itself.
Influenza is a virus and does not respond to antibiotics (medications designed to kill bacteria). While there are antiviral drugs, they should not be taken unless otherwise indicated by a physician because the rapid reproduction of viruses allows antiviral-resistant strains to develop. Antiviral drugs may also have many side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.
Those with the flu should remain at home and avoid contact with other people. This minimizes the spread of the flu virus. Those with influenza should get plenty of bed rest and drink lots of fluids. According to the Mayo Clinic, over-the-counter pain relievers may be used to reduce body aches and fever. You should consult with your physician before taking a new medication.