Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu. It is disease is caused by a contagious virus, which can result in respiratory problems. It is a viral infection that primarily affects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. While it can happen at any time of the year, influenza disease typically affects people during the colder months of the year when more people are coughing and sneezing. Influenza can range from mild to severe and can lead to hospitalization and even death in some cases, particularly among vulnerable populations such as the very young, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
Did you know:
- Each year, approximately one billion cases of seasonal influenza occur worldwide, with an estimated 3 to 5 million cases resulting in severe illness.
- Influenza viruses are categorized into four types: A, B, C, and D. Human influenza A and B viruses are responsible for seasonal epidemics that occur almost every winter. Influenza C viruses typically lead to mild respiratory illnesses and are not associated with epidemic outbreaks. In contrast, influenza D viruses primarily affect cattle and are not known to infect or cause illness in humans
- The flu is more commonly contracted by children, with individuals aged 65 and older being the least susceptible to the virus. Median incidence rates (or attack rates) by age group were as follows: 9.3% for children aged 0-17 years, 8.8% for adults between 18-64 years, and 3.9% for adults aged 65 years and older.
Types of Influenza Viruses
There are various types of influenza viruses, namely influenza A, influenza B, influenza C, and influenza D. While influenza D is primarily found in cattle, the three other types can affect humans. Influenza types A and B, in particular, can cause epidemic infections on a seasonal basis.
What is Influenza A Virus?
The influenza A virus can infect many species apart from humans, including birds and pigs. It is by far one of the most common types of the virus. Given that this subtype of the influenza virus can change over time, it can spread rapidly and even cause a pandemic. Sometimes, the influenza type A virus can be transmitted from other species to humans, causing massive outbreaks.
Some of the most common subtypes of the influenza A virus include H1N1 (Swine Flu), H3N2 virus, H2N2, and H5N1.
What is Influenza B Virus?
Unlike the influenza A virus, the influenza B virus only occurs in humans. It also causes seasonal epidemics like influenza A but is less prone to genetic modifications. While influenza A is more common and severe in adults, influenza B is common in children who are under the age of five.
Influenza B does not have sub-types, but it can be broken down into specific strains and lineages.
How Does Influenza A and B Compare?
Now that you know what is influenza virus, here’s how the two most common types of it compare:
Influenza A accounts for a majority of the seasonal flu infections, to the tune of 75% of all cases. In comparison, influenza B accounts for about 25% of the cases. During flu season, people are usually affected by the influenza A virus. However, later in the season, influenza B infections can increase.
Both types of the influenza virus are contagious. This virus spreads from one person to the other via droplets, when one of them sneezes or coughs. The virus can, in fact, spread to people as far as six feet away from the infected person. People can also be affected if they come into physical contact with an object that has the virus on it.
The symptoms of a typical influenza infection—whether influenza A or B—last about a week. Affected individuals may suffer from a cough or have fatigue for a few more days. Keep in mind that some subtypes of the influenza A virus can cause severe symptoms. Influenza B causes similar rates of death in affected individuals.
The treatment for both influenza A and B is the same. While there isn’t one specific treatment that can eliminate the virus from the body, healthcare providers suggest treatment methods to relieve the symptoms brought about by the infection. For instance, a common treatment choice for both influenza A and B is antiviral medications. These medications can help reduce the amount of time that you’re sick and also can lessen the severity of your symptoms. Also, make sure to get plenty of rest and consume lots of liquids like warm water and soups when you are down with the flu virus.
5. Vaccine coverage
Seasonal flu vaccines for influenza are developed months prior to the flu season. This is because researchers must determine which viruses to include in the coverage of the vaccine. If there isn’t a good match between the circulating viruses and the viruses covered by the vaccine, the overall effectiveness of the vaccine may be low. Still, even in this case, influenza vaccines do offer some level of protection for both influenza A and B.
How Do the Symptoms of Influenza A Differ From Those of Influenza B?
Influenza A and B are both responsible for seasonal flu outbreaks and both have identical symptoms, which include:
- Nasal congestion
- Body aches
- Cough and sore throat
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
Affected individuals should seek immediate medical attention if they begin to experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, weakness for a number of days, extreme lightheadedness, high fever, and fainting spells.
Who is Most At Risk of Contracting Influenza Flu?
Generally, immuno-compromised people are most susceptible to influenza. Those with well-developed immune systems usually don’t experience extreme symptoms. That said, the below-mentioned groups are most at risk for contracting an infection:
- Young children under the age of five
- Adults over the age of 65
- Pregnant women
- People with pre-existing illnesses, like diabetes and pneumonia
- People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
- People with weakened immune systems:
Did you know:
- Annually, millions of children are affected by influenza, and the virus can pose significant risks to them, particularly those under the age of five who are at higher risk of experiencing flu-related complications. According to a 2018 study by the CDC, children under 18 years of age are over twice as likely to contract a symptomatic flu virus infection compared to adults aged 65 and older.
How to Treat Influenza Flu?
Here are some ways to treat influenza (flu):
Antiviral Medications: Prescription antiviral drugs, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu), baloxavir (Xofluza), and zanamivir (Relenza),  can be prescribed to treat the flu. These medications are most effective when started within one to two days of the onset of flu symptoms . Antiviral drugs can help alleviate symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness by one to two days, and reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia. They are particularly recommended for individuals at a higher risk of serious flu complications, including young children, adults over 65, pregnant individuals, and those with specific medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
Rest and Hydration: Adequate rest and staying well-hydrated are crucial for recovering from the flu. Consume water, juice, and warm soups to prevent dehydration.
Over-the-Counter Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)  can help reduce fever, headaches, and body aches associated with the flu. It's important to note that children and teenagers recovering from flu-like symptoms should not take aspirin, as it carries the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.
Isolation: To prevent the spread of the flu, it's essential to stay home from work, school, and other public places until you've been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication.
Vaccination: The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting an annual flu vaccine. These vaccines train your immune system to recognize and fight off infections before you become ill.
It's worth noting that most otherwise-healthy individuals with the flu do not require antiviral treatment. However, if you experience flu symptoms and are at an increased risk of complications, feel very ill, or have concerns about your illness, it's advisable to contact your healthcare provider for guidance and possible treatment options.
Prevention: How to Protect Yourself from Influenza
The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated. Apart from vaccination, make sure to prioritise personal hygiene and maintain a distance from infected individuals. Here are a few more points to note:
- Immuno-compromised people and the groups who are most at risk of contracting influenza should vaccinate themselves.
- Avoid socialising with people who have visible symptoms of influenza.
- Make sure to wash your hands if you come in contact with common surfaces. You can also use a sanitizer to disinfect your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when you are outside.
What are some home remedies to relieve influenza symptoms?
Here are some home cures for treating influenza symptoms:
- Stay hydrated: Drink water and other fluids to keep your throat and respiratory passages wet, which aids in the evacuation of mucus and phlegm.
- Get enough rest: Make sleep a priority to strengthen your immune system and aid in your body's recovery from the flu.
- Warm chicken or beef bone broth can help with hydration, congestion reduction, and vitamin replenishment.
- Gargle with salt water: Gargle with a warm saltwater solution to relieve a sore throat and reduce inflammation.
- Use a humidifier: By adding moisture to the air in your house, a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer can help relieve congestion and cough.
- Take a steamy shower: Steamy showers help relieve congestion and cough symptoms by acting as decongestants.
- Consider honey and tea: Honey contains antiviral and antibacterial effects, so combining it with ginger or cinnamon tea will help ease a scratchy throat.
- Boost your immune system: While it will not immediately treat the flu, keeping a healthy immune system will help to avoid future illness and minimize the severity of symptoms. This involves getting enough sleep, eating a healthy food, and thinking about vitamin C supplementation.
Remember that, while these treatments can help with symptom relief, they are not a replacement for medical therapy. If you have the flu and are at a higher risk of complications, are feeling extremely ill, or have worries about your status, you must call your healthcare professional immediately.
Addressing Common Influenza Queries
Is H1N1 or H3N2 worse?
Both H1N1, also known as swine flu, and H3N2, also known as Hong Kong flu, can cause severe symptoms. H1N1 caused widespread concern in 2009 because it was a novel strain and people weren’t immune to it. The H3N2 strain resulted in a pandemic in 1968, which killed millions of people. However, seasonal flu vaccines and precautionary measures can provide some level of protection against both strains. Influenza severity can vary, so annual vaccination and good hygiene are vital for protection.
Which influenza virus is more common, H1N1 or H3N2?
Both H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses circulate in the human population, with their prevalence varying by season and region. For example:
- In the 2021-2022 flu season in Bulgaria, A(H3N2) was predominant, making up 91.7% of type A viruses.
- A study in Korea found both subtypes present, with fever as the most common symptom.
- In Spain, there were 146 cases of A-H1N1 and 88 cases of A-H3N2, indicating a higher prevalence of H1N1.
- The prevalence of H1N1 and H3N2 fluctuates, and monitoring circulating strains informs vaccination strategies and public health measures.
A Note From HealthcareOnTime
Wondering about How Can You Prevent Yourself From Getting The Flu? Well, The first and most effective step to stopping the infection on its track is getting a diagnostic test at-home that can confirm whether or not you have influenza. We at HealthcareOnTime can assist you in this by offering diagnostic tests in the comfort of your home in a cost-effective manner.
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The information listed here is strictly for educational purposes and is not intended to offer personal medical advice. Do consult your physician for any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. It’s not advised to disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information listed here. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.