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What is a Flu virus?
1: Acute viral infection involving the respiratory system;
2: An acute febrile (fever causing) highly contagious disease.
Influenza A virus refers to a series of virus subtypes infecting various animals and humans world wide. These subtypes differ on the molecular level because of changes to one of two proteins on the surface of the virus. Currently there are 16 variations of the HA protein (Hemaglutinin) and 9 variations of the NA protein (Neuraminidase). These variations can be combined in carious ways to create many different virus subtypes. Currently all viable subtypes of the influenza A virus can b found in birds.
Human influenza virus refers to subtypes which can spread widely through humans. Currently there are 3 circulating virus subtypes, H1N1, H1N2 and H3N3 (the letter referring to the protein and the number referring to the variation type of that protein). The Avian or Bird flu which has become much talked about in the media since its outbreak in 2003 is subtype H5N1.
What Symptoms should I expect?
Headache, fever, chills, sneezing, runny nose, nasal inflammation, blocked nose, dry cough, sore throat, sweating, body aches, loss of appetite, exhaustion, fatigue, weakness.
Human symptoms of the H5N2 flu virus have also included eye infections, pneumonia, and severe respiratory distress.
How Can the Flu be Transmitted?
Depending on the virus subtype, transmission methods vary. It can be airborne or come from bodily fluids. In the case of the current human flu virus airborne transmission is most common but body fluids will pass on the disease just as effectively. This is why the virus is so easily spread during flu season.
The Avian flu is passed through body secretions and excretions from bird to bird or bird to human. These fluids include saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Direct contact with these materials or surfaces covered in these materials is need for transmission to occur.
Who is most Vulnerable?
Old, young and immune compromised individuals are more susceptible to flu viruses. Also those with respiratory issues such as emphazema as well as smokers. Most cases of human infection of the H5N1 virus have been in otherwise healthy adults so the same criteria seems not to exist.
How do I prevent the Flu?
Depending on the subtype, vaccines are available (i.e. for human subtypes). However no vaccine has been developed for the Avian Flu as yet. For human subtypes the best time to get vaccinated is October to early December. Flu season often lasts until late spring.
Other habits of good heath can decrease your risk of flu infection:
1. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze.
2. Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol based cleanser.
3. Avoid close contact with sick individuals.
4. If you are sick stay home until you are well.
5. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth
6. For the Avian flu. Avoid all contact with birds, domestic or wild.
How do I know I have the Flu?
Often tests must be done as diagnosis based on symptoms alone is difficult. Blood tests must be done within 2-3 days of symptoms occurring in order to give results.
How do I treat the Flu?
Four antiviral medications are currently approved for flu treatment. Amantadine, Rimantadine, Zanamavir and Oseltamivir. Plenty of rest, lots of fluids and avoiding alcohol and tobacco will help along with acetaminophen to relieve muscle aches and fever.
Currently the Avian flu has been shown to be resistant to both Amantadine and Rimantadine however, its resistance to the other two drugs has yet to be determined.
Overall the flu is a common illness which affects millions each year. It is rarely dangerous to normal healthy adults. However if ever in doubt, if you are in any of the categories listed in the who is vulnerable category or if you have come in contact with birds which may be infected with Avian flu, consult your physician immediately.
Evangeline Siri, B.Sc. is studying near Bangkok, Thailand. Her information website on the Avian Bird Flu Virus is http://www.AvianBirdFluDefense.com