Influenza: A Trickster Capable Of Fooling Our Immune System

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Are you sick and tired of getting influenza every year?

The infection seems impossible to prevent against but with a little understanding and know-how, you can reduce your chances, as well as your loved ones, of getting the infection.

This Malaysian family influenza pack will equip you with the knowledge and offer useful tips to help you keep influenza at bay. Read on to discover the following:

  • Why influenza is not the same as the common cold;
  • The different types of viruses that cause influenza;
  • How these viruses are constantly changing and what this means to you
  • How the influenza virus spreads from animals to humans;
  • The people who are at high risk of developing complications from influenza;
  • Signs that you should see a doctor;
  • Tips on how to how to prevent influenza from affecting you and your family;
  • How the strains for the influenza vaccine are selected every year.

With the understanding you will gain from this information pack, you will be able to keep your family free from influenza every year.

 

Not The Common Cold

Many people confuse having a runny nose and sniffles with having the flu. What these individuals have is actually the common cold which is very different from the flu, otherwise known as influenza. Have a look at some of the differences.

Symptoms Influenza Cold
Fever Usually high Sometimes
Chills, Aches, Pains Frequent Occasional
Loss of appetite Sometimes Sometimes
Coughing Frequent Occasional
Sore throat Sometimes Sometimes
Sneezing or sniffles Occasional Common
Fatigue Common Rare
Onset of symptoms Very rapid More gradual
Complications Can be life-threatening; especially in high-risk groups Sinus and ear infections

 

A Closer Look At The Influenza Viruses

Influenza happens when one of three types of influenza viruses infect the respiratory tract.

 

Type A

  • Most common and most dangerous of the three.
  • Causes widespread infection not only in humans but in many kinds of animals such as birds and pigs as well.
  • There are many different subtypes of Type A viruses. Researchers classify these subtypes into HA and NA subtypes. To date, there are 16 HA subtypes and 9 NA subtypes identified.

 

Type B

  • Known to infect only humans.
  • Like Type A, this group also causes widespread infections.

 

Type C

  • Rare, only known to cause mild respiratory infections in humans and pigs

 

Constantly Changing

nfluenza is one of the most changeable viral infections known to man. The term antigenic drift is used to describe small and gradual changes, while large and abrupt changes are called antigenic shifts.

 

Antigenic drift

  • Happens frequently in Type A and Type B viruses, giving rise to new strains of viruses that cannot be recognised by our immune system.
  • The constant creation of new strains is the reason why we have influenza outbreaks all over the world every year.
  • Each year, a new influenza vaccine has to be produced to combat each new strain.
  • That’s why the protection from an influenza vaccine is typically good for only a year and we have to immunise ourselves against influenza every year.

 

Antigenic shift

  • Describes sudden and significant changes in the Type A influenza virus.
  • This happens when two different influenza strains exchange genetic material, creating an entirely •new subtype of Type A virus.
  • Many people will have little to no immunity to this new subtype of Type A virus, resulting in severe •influenza epidemics.

 

From Animals To Humans

The highly changeable nature of the influenza virus is highlighted in its ability to jump from species to species. The influenza virus is typically found in migratory birds. However, after mutations the virus can readily jump to domesticated animals such as chickens and ducks. Subsequently, the influenza virus can undergo one more step of mutation before jumping to infect humans.

However, in 1997, for the first time, scientists found that influenza can jump directly from migratory birds to humans. This phenomenon gave rise to the Avian influenza (H5N1), commonly called the bird flu, which affected hundreds of people around the world.

The Avian influenza highlighted how the influenza virus can mutate very quickly to infect humans and outbreaks can happen at any time. Therefore, prevention is the best way to protect ourselves from this constantly changing disease, and one form of protection is the annual influenza immunisation.

 

From Person To Person

The influenza virus can spread easily from one person to another through droplets. An individual becomes infected when the virus enters the body through the nose or mouth.

Here are some things you should know about this method of transmission:

 

  • An infected person can spread the virus when this person coughs, sneezes or talks.
  • These droplets can travel up to 1 or 2 metres in the air.
  • Also, the virus can remain on objects and surfaces for 1-2 days, on cloth and tissue paper for 8-12 hours and on your hands for up to 5 minutes.

 

High Risk Group

Influenza does not always result in life-threatening complications for most individuals. However, there are certain groups of people that face an increased risk of experiencing influenza-related complications.

They include children and adults who have pre-existing medical conditions and other risk factors:

  • Heart diseases;
  • Asthma;
  • Chronic lung disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis;
  • Diabetes and other metabolic diseases;
  • Cancers;
  • Neurological conditions including disorders of the brain, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, mental retardation or spinal cord injury;
  • Kidney diseases;
  • Liver disorders;
  • Blood disorders;
  • Overweight and obesity;
  • Congenital and acquitted immunodeficiency (this includes those who are HIV positive);
  • People with immunocompromised state, such as that caused by steroid therapy and chemotherapy;
  • Smokers;
  • Young infants;
  • Individuals over 65 years of age are also considered high-risk groups. In fact, the highest rate of hospitalization and death from influenza occurs in those over 65 years of age.

If all abovementioned individuals were to contract influenza, it could make their conditions worse and their health could deteriorate very rapidly. This could result in hospitalisation or even death.

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