Influenza is a viral infection that is easily spread from person-to-person through direct contact. It affects the respiratory system much like a common cold but is more severe; especially for the elderly. Various strains of the virus exist, including swine and avian flu.
Influenza presents itself with fever, chills, muscle aches, weakness or fatigue, runny nose and sneezing, sore throat and cough as well as headaches and appetite loss. Depending on the severity, these symptoms might be more pronounced.
There are three major strains of the virus; namely A, B and C. A and B are usually seasonal virus' and can be extremely dangerous, causing hospitalisation and even fatality. C strain influenza in contrast usually only causes mild symptoms.
The virus is passed from person-to-person through the coughing and sneezing of an infected individual. It can also be passed through contact with a contaminated item or by physical contact such as kissing.
Being able to spot the difference between a cold and the flu can be vital if you suffer from underlying conditions, such as asthma or lung problems, as influenza can pose a significant health risk if those problems are evident. One of the main differences is the time it takes for onset of symptoms; a cold tends to be a more gradual infection whereas the flu is quite sudden in its appearance. It's also identifiable through body aching, which is usually not present with a common cold.
Flu vaccines are nearly 90% effective in protecting against seasonal strains of the virus if taken correctly and yearly as they are usually advised. Alternative treatments like Tamiflu, which also treat influenza, can be taken to help prevent contraction of the virus as well. When taken once symptoms begin to present, the medication will help reduce the severity of the virus and the duration.
Generally flu will last three to seven days but will depend on a number of factors ranging from age, vaccination and medication use. Underlying health conditions can also increase the amount of time it takes for the flu to disappear.
Swine flu is a unique strain of influenza made infamous by the pandemic which started in South America in 2009. It was called swine flu because of the association with the animal was made and as fears rose that pork products and the like spread the disease. However, this is not true as the strain is spread like all influenza through the air and contact with infected individuals. Tamiflu was implemented successfully in the wake of the pandemic and is now used to treat any occurrences of the strain.
Bird flu, or avian flu, is an extremely contagious strain of the influenza virus which can, unlike swine flu, be spread to humans by ingestion of infected poultry as well as through contact with infection individuals. While originally very dangerous, vaccination now exists to treat the strain if necessary although it's very rare.
Tamiflu is currently the only prescription treatment that can help prevent the flu virus from being contracted and spread, as well as treating the condition once infected. It's extremely effective if taken within the first 48 hours of infection and can reduce recovery time and lessen the severity of symptoms.