Influenza

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Influenza or flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It is spread through human contact, and from contact with infected birds, pigs or other animals. Winter is the worst season. Influenza caused a deadly worldwide pandemic in 1918-1919, as populations were weakened in the aftermatch of World War I. Over 20 million died worldwide. A worldwide "swine flu" epidemic is underway in 2009, caused by a new strain; so far the deaths from the new strain have been few.

Medical

The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include these "flu-like" symptoms:

  • High Fever
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults

Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. In normal years in the U.S. on average 5% to 20% of the population catches the flu; more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and; about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

When Flu Occurs

The peak of flu season is winter. The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalizations, and deaths) of a flu season varies from year to year. Seasons are more likely to be severe if the epidemic originates in China. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control monitors circulating flu viruses and their related disease activity and provides influenza reports each week from October through May.

Contagion

The period when an infected person is contagious depends on the age and health of the person. Studies show that most healthy adults may be able to infect others from 2 days prior to becoming sick and for 10 days after they first develop symptoms. Some young children and people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer than a week. Infectivity also varies widely between people, with about one in ten being "hyper-infectors" who are responsible for the majority of influenza transmission. While each flu season is unique, it is estimated that, on average, approximately 5% to 20% of people get the flu each year, and more than 200,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. About 36,000 people die on average per year from the complications of flu.


Types

Swine Flu

Swine flu is a respiratory illness in pigs caused by a virus. The swine flu virus routinely causes outbreaks in pigs but doesn't usually kill many of them. Swine flu viruses don't usually infect humans, but there have been occasional cases, usually among people who've had direct contact with infected pigs, such as farm workers. Currently medical workers are exploring the possibility of a mutation of known types of the virus, enabling it to pass among species more easily. There have been cases of the virus spreading from human to human, probably in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing by infected people. The virus is an influenza A virus, carrying the designation H1N1. [1]

In April, 2009, an outbreak of Swine Flu was reported, first in Mexico, and then immediately after other countries as well, giving every indication of a possible pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Mexican virus samples match the U.S. virus. The virus is a mix of human virus, bird virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia. The CDC recommends the use of the flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, as there isn't a specific vaccine for the current mutated strain. [2] It is genetically different from the fully human H1N1 seasonal influenza virus that has been circulating globally for the past few years. The new flu virus contains DNA typical to avian, swine and human viruses, including elements from European and Asian swine viruses. [3] [4]

Spanish Flu Pandemic: 1918-1919

The Spanish Flu from 1918 - 1919 was a deadly strain of Influenza A virus which struck civilians and soldiers following World War I. This pandemic killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide, more people in one year than the Black Death, Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Indeed, more people died from the Flu than from battle injuries in the war. The flu did not originate in Spain; it was called the Spanish Flu because it received greater press attention in Spain than anywhere else in the world. More than one-fifth of the world's population was infected, in large part because of the close quarters of men living together in army camps, and because it was at the end of the war, as they returned they brought the disease back to the wider world. The dislocations and harships of war left millions of people ill-nourished and more vulnerable.

Some 675,000 Americans died. Montana was one of the four hardest-hit states in the nation, as 5,000 residents, or 1% of the population, died as a result of the infection. In response to the epidemic the State Board of Health urged closing public gathering places. Such regulation spawned public resentment, but the Board of Health stood firm. Butte was the hardest hit city of Montana and one of the hardest hit in the nation. The University of Montana in Missoula closed to protect the students. In remote areas of the state isolation and limited medical personnel left many families to face illness with help from neighbors.[5]

This flu was most deadly for those in the healthy age groups, between 20-40, whereas most flu deaths usually occur in the elderly or the very young. The effect of the influenza epidemic was so severe that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years. The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%. [6]

While the 1918 Pandemic was particularly devastating to communities and individuals, viral, host and environmental factors were at cause.


Threat today

While many modern medicines such as vaccines and drugs are now available a large pandemic could still cause over 100 million deaths worldwide because of increased travel and lengthy lead times to manufacture the life saving drugs.

Further reading

External links

References

  1. Swine Influenza: General Information
  2. CDC Podcast
  3. CDC: Swine Influenza
  4. WHO bulletin: Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR)
  5. Pierce C. Mullen, and Michael L. Nelson, "Montanans and 'The Most Peculiar Disease': the Influenza Epidemic and Public Health, 1918-1919". Montana: the Magazine of Western History 1987 37(2): 50-61; Volney Steele, "The Flu Epidemic of 1918 on the Montana Frontier." Journal of the West 2003 42(4): 81-90
  6. "1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics": Jeffery Taubenberge & David Morens