Influenza: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

The term "influenza" comes from the Italian phrase "influenza del freddo," which means "influence of the cold." J. Hugger first used the term to refer to the disease in his 1703 thesis about the causes and symptoms of the disease. RNA viruses from the Orthomyxoviridae infect mammals and birds, effecting fever, body pains, coughing, headache, and chills. Some individuals, particularly younger children and older adults, may experience nausea and vomiting. Many vehicles spread the virus from one person to another including nasal secretions, droplet aerosols resulting from coughs and sneezes, and other bodily fluids. Primarily a seasonal epidemic, influenza cases rise particularly during January and February and can continue through March.

Since the symptoms of the flu often recur those of an ordinary cold, doctors generally differentiate between them in terms of impairment and severity. Influenza generally affects the patient quickly, causing chills and fever. As the disease develops, many individuals may confine themselves to bed due to severe aches and pains, as well as fatigue. The best treatment for the flu is rest and liquids. Acetaminophen may mitigate fever and treat the patient of some pain. Children and teenagers diagnosed with influenza must avoid aspirin, as it may cause Reye's syndrome, a fatal liver disease. Since influenza is a virus, antibiotics are completely ineffective against it, but they may be valuable tools against secondary infections that result from the disease. Antiviral drugs may provide relief if influenza is diagnosed early, although some strains show resistance to these therapies.

The best way to prevent the flu is receiving the flu vaccine. Individuals should wash their hands often during flu season to avoid transmission. Along the same lines, they should keep their hands away from their faces and avoid rubbing their eyes. Vitamin C and other immune system boosters bolster the body against the virus. If individuals become sick, they should take care to cover their noses and faces while coughing and sneezing, minimizing the airborne particles that result. If a fever is associated with illness, individuals are advised to remain home until the fever is resolved for more than 24 hours. Vaccination also reinforces the body's immune system against certain strains of influenza. Everyone older than 6 months of age should seek a vaccination early every flu season; ideally in October. Before vaccination, everyone should check with their doctors to discuss eligibility, especially those with a fever, a compromised immune system or allergies to any components of the vaccine.

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