The Flu Virus 2016-2017: A Potentially Fatal Ordeal

By: Haadi Hafeez M.D.
Viruses are fascinating pathogens; they are microscopic infectious agents that only replicate inside the living cells of other organisms, infecting all life forms, from animals to humans.
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The flu season is often a time of sniffling noses, high fevers, and staying in bed for far too long, but for the vigilant individual, steps may be taken to avoid the misery that flu may bring, and instead create a barrier of defense to help stay active and healthy during the flu season.

It is estimated that approximately 6000 Canadians were hospitalized due to complications of the flu in 2016, with the death toll nearing 300 in the same year.

While south of the border, our neighbors in the United States suffer from even higher rates; approximately 200,000 hospitalizations and between 3000-49,000 deaths every year!

Because of these staggering numbers much effort is invested in promoting the awareness of this potentially fatal illness, and spearheaded by Health Canada and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) through informational campaigns, and pop-up vaccination clinics it high population areas.

  1. What Is The Flu?

Often confused with the common cold which typically only presents with mild symptoms affecting your nose and throat, the flu also affects the lungs potentially leading to several complications including viral pneumonia (inflammation of the lung alveoli), sinus infections, as well as worsening of previous health conditions such as asthma or heart failure.

High fevers with a sudden onset of fatigue are the main points of contrast when comparing the flu to the common cold.

Flu symptoms tend to begin approximately 1-4 days after exposure to the virus, with most symptoms lasting less than a week in duration and recovery occurring in about 7 to 10 days post exposure.

However, older individuals above the age of 65 years tend to have the greatest risk for complications from the flu virus due to the age-related weakening of the immune system and may require hospital admission as the flu may sometimes lead to death if improperly managed. 

The virus spreads primarily by respiratory droplets which get expelled through the air by coughing, sneezing, or even talking to uninfected individuals, making it highly contagious.

In fact, people can spread the flu virus even before they exhibit symptoms themselves, making it quite difficult to see who is sick or not in the early stages. The virus may also be contracted by touching surfaces contaminated by the virus, but is relatively uncommon.   The following are some common symptoms to be aware of.

  • High fever
  • Chills/Night sweats
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny nose/Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise (muscle/body aches)
  1. What Can We Do About It?

While avoiding ill looking individuals may aid in circumventing the flu, it is still relatively difficult to obtain complete resistance. By far the most widely accepted and highly studied best line of defense is the flu shot; a vaccination against various strains of the influenza virus. Due to the rapidly changing nature of the flu virus, a new version of the flu vaccine is developed twice a year, effectively providing a moderate to high protection against the illness, and is recommended for nearly everyone; 6 months and older, including pregnant women(inactive form). It will take about 2 weeks for the body to produce the adequate amount of antibodies to fight off an infection, so it’s important to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning of the fall season. Flu vaccines are typically considered generally safe, but some side effects after administration may occur including experiencing a fever, muscle pain, or fatigue. The most common type of flu vaccine is manufactured using eggs and should not be given to anyone with a severe allergy to them, but is generally considered safe for individuals with a mild egg allergy. Several forms exist including the traditional trivalent muscle injection (inactive form), and a version that is sprayed into the nose and inhaled (live attenuated form).

While medicinal treatments do exist they are generally reserved for reducing the severity of complications; having a limited reduction in the time of illness, and therefore the main mode of tackling influenza is through prevention by practicing good bodily hygiene during the flu season. Here are some effective ways to help you stay healthy and reduce influenza viral transmission:

  • Avoiding frequent eye, nose, and mouth touching
  • Frequently washing hands with soap and water/alcohol based sanitizer
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Avoiding contact with sick individuals
  • Staying home when sick

If you happen to have already contracted the flu virus, despite all efforts, the best course of action is to get some rest, as your body is actively trying to get rid of the foreign invader, and sufficient rest will allow you to utilize that energy to combat it. Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water, as having a fever may cause excessive dehydration, while simultaneously avoiding caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and soda which may promote dehydration. Symptom reduction can also be remedied with over the counter (OTC) cough and cold medication that contains antihistamines, decongestants, and fever reducers.

 

  1. References:
This article, and the products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please see your health care provider before taking any supplements or starting a new program.

Having a deep passion for science and education, Haadi career path has led him to pursue a future in medicine, successfully achieving the distinction of MD. He is always in the pursuit of academic knowledge through research and medical communications, and enjoys writing educational medical content to reach a broader audience; helping readers make informed medical decisions.

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