Influenza: what is it?
Influenza is an acute viral disease that affects primarily the respiratory system. Influenza is included in the category of acute respiratory viral infections.
The cause of the flu is not a weakening of the immune system and not hypothermia, but a special virus – the flu virus. Its feature is extreme mutability. The three types of influenza described in medicine (A, B and C) can alternate and also change their structure. Therefore, every year during the epidemic, our immune system encounters a new microorganism, which significantly complicates the fight against it.
Type A virus is “famous” for its abundance of severe forms of the disease and its high prevalence. Influenza C virus is the least aggressive microorganism. Type B is somewhere in between the intensity of the spread and the severity of the disease caused.
How does infection happen?
The source of infection with the flu is a sick person and only in rare cases some animals – pigs, birds. One should keep in mind that you can get infected from a person with an erased form of the flu, when its manifestations are minimal and may not be perceived by the person as a disease.
Influenza is transmitted by airborne droplets. A sick person, when coughing, sneezing and simply breathing, forms an infected “cloud” around him/her — particles of sputum and mucus. Inhalation of these particles is the way the flu virus enters the body of a still healthy person.
A cloud of suspended infected particles gradually settles on surrounding objects. Unfortunately, the influenza virus is relatively stable and can remain active in the environment for several hours. Passing by household items contaminated with the virus, doing tidy, using these things, we involuntarily shake off infected particles that again rise into the air and can enter the human respiratory system. This is the so-called air-dust transmission path.
What is the first sign of the flu?
Symptoms of influenza are known to most people, and yet it will be useful to repeat such important information.
The latent period – incubation – lasts from 5-6 hours to 3 days. During this time, the virus manages to penetrate through the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose into the body, and the immune system, meanwhile, attempts to prevent this. The duration of the incubation period depends on the type of virus, the profusion of the infection and the state of the immune system of a particular person. Following the incubation period, manifestations of the disease appear, which may have a slightly different sequence.
- Runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat are common initial symptoms of the disease;
- Weakness, body aches may be the first sign of an onset illness or follow the symptoms indicated in the previous paragraph;
- An increase in temperature usually occurs in the first hours of the disease. Influenza is characterized by severe fever with temperatures up to 104°F and even higher;
- The cough appears a little later and at first is characterized by unproductiveness – the cough is dry, it “tears” the trachea and bronchi. Gradually, the cough becomes wet, with the discharge of sputum. If the cough is “barking”, then the larynx becomes inflamed and breathing difficulties may occur.
Symptoms that are not typical for flu:
- Conjunctivitis, manifested by redness of the eyes and inflammatory discharge, which sticks together and forms a crust on the eyelashes;
- Severe runny nose;
- Pronounced intestinal manifestations. Influenza may cause single vomiting and diarrhea, which is a reaction of the body to the severity of the condition and not a viral lesion of the gastrointestinal tract. The so-called “intestinal flu” with repeated vomiting and loose stools has nothing to do with the flu – this disease is caused by a completely different virus.
With a successful course of the disease, the state of health improves on the 5-6th day, the temperature drops to normal levels. As a rule, recovery occurs on the 7-10th day. However, residual effects (weakness, fatigue, decreased performance) can last 2-3 weeks.
The most dangerous complications of influenza develop when the immune system is weak (for example, in the elderly and children), in the absence of treatment or inadequate treatment, in violation of the regimen.
- Bronchitis: within a week after the onset of the disease, the cough does not go away, a large amount of purulent (yellow, greenish, gray) sputum is separated;
- Pneumonia – inflammation of the lung tissue, often caused not by the virus itself, but by bacteria that penetrate the mucous membranes affected by the virus. The cough is painful, the general condition of the patient suffers, the temperature is elevated. Sometimes hemorrhagic pneumonia can develop – a particularly severe form of the disease, often ending in death;
- Meningitis and encephalitis are severe inflammatory diseases of the brain and its membranes. The disease is characteristic mainly for children – in adults, such a complication develops extremely rarely. Meningitis and encephalitis are difficult to treat and require intensive care. These conditions can be fatal;
- Convulsive seizures may be a sign of damage to the central nervous system or be a reaction to a critical temperature lesion;
- Psychoses with hallucinations are a sign of severe intoxication with impaired brain function.
Prevention of influenza
- Eat citrus fruits, sweet peppers, dairy and sour-milk products, hard cheeses, boiled fish, beef, carrots with sour cream, raisins or dried apricots. Vitamins A, C, zinc and calcium contained in these products prevent colds and facilitate their treatment. But do not drink milk in the acute period of the disease – it delays the treatment;
- Eat 1/2 grapefruit in the morning and evening – this is a good prevention of angina. Grapefruit contains tannins, which create a protective film on the mucosa;
- Protect your feet from hypothermia and dampness. If you still wet your feet, steam them in a mustard bath (1 liter of water, 2 tbsp.spoons of mustard powder), dry with a towel and put on wool socks;
- In the morning and evening, wipe your face and rinse your mouth and throat with a decoction of plantain or eucalyptus. This will protect the mucous membranes and the skin from the subsidence of pathogenic microbes;
- When there is no strong wind, dress warmer and take a walk, gently inhaling and exhaling air with your nose. This will help strengthen the nasopharynx;
- In the period of flu epidemics, lubricate the nose with oxolin ointment before going outside. If you sneeze and cough nearby, cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief. This will prevent infections from entering the body;
- Prevention of acute respiratory viral infections includes general healing, strengthening the body and stimulating immunity through hardening, physical education in the fresh air, skiing, ice skating, swimming, eating full-bodied foods rich in vitamins, consumption of vitamins;
- In the midst of infection, it is recommended to limit attendance at public events, especially indoors, to avoid too close contact with patients, and wash hands as often as possible. The same rules should be observed by patients: take sick leave, do not attend public events, try to use public transport as little as possible, avoid close contact with healthy people, wear a gauze bandage.
First of all, it must be comprehensive. The doctor and patient have three tasks: to destroy the virus; help the immune system fight the infection; weaken the painful symptoms of the disease. These goals are achieved in different ways: both medicines of different pharmaceutical groups and natural remedies are used.
Antiviral therapy is paramount in influenza. The sooner you start using it, the better: after a few days from the onset of the disease, it will become less effective. Influenza drugs are not numerous. Adamantane derivatives (amantadine, rimantadine) are practically not used now: the swine flu pandemic in 2009 showed almost 100% resistance of viruses to them. The anatomical, therapeutic and chemical classification of WHO includes neuraminidase inhibitors zanamivir and oseltamivir, which prevents the virus from entering cells. These drugs most effectively cope with influenza pathogens. To alleviate the course of the flu, resort to symptomatic remedies. With a runny nose, vasoconstrictive drops are used (no longer than 5 days), with a sore throat – local antiseptics, with cough – mucolytic and expectorant drugs. To reduce the inflammatory response in influenza, doctors often prescribe NSAIDs based on paracetamol and ibuprofen. It is allowed to take antipyretic drugs only if the temperature exceeds 100° F, otherwise, you will prevent the body from fighting viruses.
Treatment with natural remedies
In childhood, we treated colds with compresses, mustard plasters and hot milk with honey. Many older people are convinced that this is the most suitable help for the flu. But nowadays, there are more effective, comfortable and safe ways to treat the flu. For example, according to the modern approach, there is absolutely no need to torment the patient with alcohol compresses and cans: there is no scientific evidence about their benefits, but harm is possible. Mustard plasters and hot foot baths are unacceptable at high temperatures, otherwise, they are safe distractions. At some points, medicine agrees with the experience of ancestors. So, with the flu, it is advised to drink more fluids in order to quickly remove intoxication, so tea with raspberries will definitely not hurt the patient. Thus, each of the usual methods needs critical evaluation. We do not urge to completely abandon traditional medicine, but it makes sense to reconsider the “grandfather” recipes in accordance with new views on treatment. And do not forget that the main role in the fight against influenza belongs to antiviral therapy.
Although vaccination is the preferred method of prevention, antiviral drugs are also effective.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis with antiviral drugs can be used during an epidemic in:
- Those who were vaccinated only during the previous 2 weeks;
- Those for whom vaccination is contraindicated;
- Those who have weakened immunity and, thus, may lack a response to vaccination.
Antiviral drugs do not weaken the development of the immune response caused by an inactivated vaccine. They can be canceled 2 weeks after vaccination. If vaccination cannot be given, antiviral drugs continue to be used throughout the epidemic.
Postexposure prophylactic antiviral drugs are usually indicated for people exposed to the potential for the virus when cases occur in a closed environment (for example, a nursing center, hospital ward). These medicines can also be given to family members or people at high risk for developing flu complications. The choice of drug depends on the pathogen resistance profile, but recently, oseltamivir is preferred (taken once a day, ).
It has been proven that the only method of specific influenza prophylaxis is vaccination. The introduction of a vaccine into the body cannot cause the disease, but by producing protective antibodies it stimulates the immune system to fight infection. The composition of modern vaccines is changed annually in accordance with the mutations of the virus to maximize coincidence with circulating strains and protects against three types of the virus simultaneously in 90% of cases. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is incomparably higher than all non-specific medications that need to be taken for several months: immunostimulants, vitamins, homeopathic remedies.
Experts are sure that vaccines remain the first line of defense in the prevention of influenza.
Most patients recover completely, although recovery often requires 1–2 weeks. However, influenza and influenza-associated pneumonia are important causes of morbidity or mortality among high-risk patients. The use of early antiviral treatment in these patients can reduce the likelihood of damage to the lower respiratory tract and reduce hospitalization. Appropriate antibacterial therapy reduces mortality caused by secondary bacterial pneumonia.
In general, the mortality rate is low (f<1%), but due to the high incidence, the total number of deaths can be significant. Based on the CDC assessment in the United States, annually > 700,000 hospital admissions and 50,000 fatal cases are due to seasonal flu; the highest percentages are observed in patients > 65 years of age. Worldwide, the number of deaths associated with the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 was estimated at up to 575,000 cases; > 80% of deaths occur in patients aged < 65 years.