Influenza is a viral disease that primarily affects the respiratory system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This highly contagious disease, which is usually simply called “the flu,” affects people of all ages, but it is most serious in the very young or very old. While there is no cure for influenza, there are treatments that can reduce discomfort while the virus runs its course.
The influenza virus presents itself in many forms. These viruses are grouped into three broad categories, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Group A has many subtypes, including the seasonal flu viruses that commonly affect a large number of people. Group B viruses are also common. Group C flu viruses, on the other hand, occur infrequently and are not included in the yearly vaccines.
Influenza viruses are spread through respiratory droplets, such as those expelled when someone coughs or sneezes. These infected droplets can travel a distance of up to 6 feet. A person who inhales those droplets can then become infected. The flu viruses can also live on dry, hard surfaces and on human skin. The disease spreads rapidly in part because a person can spread the virus before he is feeling any symptoms and for up to seven days after he has begun to feel sick.
Children and adults with influenza typically develop a high fever, and suffer from aches and pains in the body. They may have a cough, or a runny or stuffed-up nose, as well as a headache. Children more than adults suffer from vomiting or diarrhea, and run the risk of dehydration in severe cases.
Prevention and Treatment
While there is no hard and fast cure for the flu, vaccines can reduce your chances of getting the flu, according to the WHO. Good hygiene practices can also greatly reduce the risk of influenza. Wash your hands frequently, and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Sterilize toys that are shared, especially at childcare centers and schools. Parents should also keep sick children at home to prevent the disease from spreading.
In most healthy people, influenza is a relatively mild to moderate illness that will run its course in less than a week. In the elderly, infants and people with already compromised immune systems, the flu can lead to more serious complications such as pneumonia. People in high-risk categories should take extra precautions to avoid influenza and should be cared for meticulously if they do become infected with the virus.