FLU: Influenza and a Viral Infection

Influenza, commonly called the flu. Influenza is a viral infection that attacks our respiratory system — our nose, throat and lungs. Influenza and its complications can be deadly. World Health Organazation (WHO) estimate that hundred thousand of people on this planet die each year of complications of influenza.
People at higher risk of developing flu complications includes young children, older adults, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people who have chronic illnesses. Our best defense against influenza is to receive an annual vaccination.

Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be an annoyance, you usually feel much worse with the flu.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu includes Fever over 100 F (38 C), Chills and sweats, Headache, Dry cough, aching muscles (especially in your back, arms and legs), Fatigue and weakness and Nasal congestion.

If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more-serious problems. 
Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick up the germs from an object — such as a telephone or computer keyboard — and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, with new strains appearing regularly. If you've had influenza in the past, your body has already made antibodies to fight that particular strain of the virus. If future influenza viruses are similar to what you had before, either by having the disease or by vaccination, those antibodies may prevent infection.

But your antibodies can't protect you from new influenza strains that are very different from what you had before. These very different (novel) virus strains, which usually cross over into humans from pigs or birds, can cause worldwide epidemics (pandemics).
Factors that may increase your risk of developing influenza or its complications include:
§  Age. Seasonal influenza tends to target young children and people over 65. The pandemic H1N1 virus that surfaced in 2009 appeared to be most common in teenagers and young adults.
§  Occupation. Health care workers and child care personnel are more likely to have close contact with people infected with influenza.
§  Living conditions. People who live in facilities along with many other residents, such as nursing homes or military barracks, are more likely to develop influenza.
§  Weakened immune system. Cancer treatments, anti-rejection drugs, corticosteroids and HIV/AIDS can weaken your immune system. This can make it easier for you to catch influenza and may also increase your risk of developing complications.
§  Chronic illnesses. Conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems may increase your risk of influenza complications.
§  Pregnancy. Pregnant women are more likely to develop influenza complications, particularly in the second and third trimesters.
If you're young and healthy, seasonal influenza usually isn't serious. Although you may feel miserable while you have it, the flu usually goes away with no lasting effects. But high-risk children and adults may develop complications such as Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Sinus infections, and Ear infections.
Pneumonia is the most common and most serious. For older adults and people with a chronic illness, pneumonia can be deadly. The best protection is vaccination against both pneumonia and influenza.
Usually, you'll need nothing more than bed rest and plenty of fluids to treat the flu. But in some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). If taken soon after you notice symptoms, these drugs may shorten your illness by a day or so and help prevent serious complications.

Oseltamivir is an oral medication. Zanamivir is inhaled through a device similar to an asthma inhaler and shouldn't be used by anyone with respiratory problems, such as asthma and lung disease. Antiviral side effects may include nausea and vomiting. Oseltamivir has also been associated with delirium and self-harm behaviors in teenagers. Some strains of influenza have become resistant to oseltamivir and to amantadine, an older antiviral drug.

If you do come down with the flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:
§  Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice and warm soups to prevent dehydration. Drink enough so that your urine is clear or very pale yellow.
§  Rest. Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection.
§  Consider pain relievers. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), to combat the achiness associated with influenza. Don't give aspirin to children or teens because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal disease.
Each year's seasonal flu vaccine contains protection from the three influenza viruses that are expected to be the most common during that year's flu season. The H1N1 influenza virus responsible for the 2009 pandemic will be included in the seasonal flu vaccine for 2010 to 2011. The vaccine will be available as an injection or as a nasal spray.
Controlling the spread of infection
The influenza vaccine isn't 100-percent effective, so it's also important to take measures to reduce the spread of infection:
§  Wash your hands. Thorough and frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent many common infections. Scrub your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
§  Contain your coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inner crook of your elbow.
§  Avoid crowds. Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate — in child care centers, schools, office buildings, auditoriums and public transportation. By avoiding crowds during peak flu season, you reduce your chances of infection.
Hand washing: Do's and don'ts
Hand washing is an easy way to prevent infection. Understand when to wash your hands, how to properly use hand sanitizer and how to get your children into the habit.
Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness. Hand washing requires only soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer — a cleanser that doesn't require water. Find out when and how to wash your hands properly.

When to wash your hands
As you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Although it's impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food, Eating, Treating wounds or giving medicine
  • Touching a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses
     Always wash your hands after: 

  •      Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry, Using the toilet, Changing a diaper
  •      Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes or waste, Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
  •      Treating wounds, Touching a sick or injured person, Handling garbage or something that could be contaminated, such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes
  •      Of course, it's also important to wash your hands whenever they look dirty.
How to wash your hands
It's generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. Follow these simple steps:

  • Wet your hands with running water.
  • Apply liquid, bar or powder soap.
  • Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet.
Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.

How to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers — which don't require water — are an excellent alternative to soap and water. If you choose to use a commercially prepared hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Then follow these simple steps:

  • Apply enough of the product to the palm of your hand to wet your hands completely.
  • Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces, for up to 25 seconds or until they're dry.
If your hands are visibly dirty, however, wash with soap and water. Antimicrobial wipes or towelettes are another option, although they're not as effective as alcohol-based sanitizers.
Kids need clean hands, too..
Help your children stay healthy by encouraging them to wash their hands properly and frequently. Wash your hands with your children to show them how it's done. To prevent rushing, suggest washing their hands for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. You might place hand-washing reminders at children's eye level, such as a chart by the bathroom sink for children to mark every time they wash their hands. If your children can't reach the sink on their own, keep a stepstool handy.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are okay for children and adolescents, too, especially when soap and water isn't available. Make sure the sanitizer completely dries before your child touches anything. Store the container safely away after use.
Hand washing is especially important for children in child care settings. Young children cared for in groups outside the home are at greater risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, which can easily spread to family members and other contacts. Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Ask whether the children are required to wash their hands several times a day — not just before meals. Note, too, whether diapering areas are cleaned after each use and whether eating and diapering areas are well separated.
A simple way to stay healthy
Hand washing doesn't take much time or effort, but it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this simple habit can play a major role in protecting your health.


Gillion said...

Pei Pa Koa (www.geocities.jp/ninjiom_hong_kong/index_e.htm ) is one of the few Chinese natural cough remedies that have been scientifically studied. it's something like herb plus honey, and it's sweet, thick and black in color. If you have a cough, look for it! It used to be one of my favourite natural cough remedies.

if your cough persists, seek professional help such as traditional Chinese medicine physicians - I have had very good experiences with them.

shahrukh said...

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