Sneezing, coughing, nausea, fever, body aches, drowsiness…
Do these sound familiar?
They should… they’re just a few symptoms of that dirty 3 lettered sickness that nobody likes to get…
When you have the flu… your world stops… for a week (sometimes longer!) you are utterly useless.
So with that in mind…and with the swine flu so prevalent in the news lately… let’s take a look at some of these ever changing, microscopic health assassins.
While there are 5 different flu viruses identified…as of now… only 3 have made their way to the human population.
The seasonal influenza, avian (or Asian) influenza, and the newest bandit… swine influenza.
So let’s talk a little about our biggest ‘repeat offender’… and that’s the common seasonal flu that seems to invade our lives during the late fall and winter seasons.
Before we get into the different kinds of flu… let’s talk about what a flu is…
Influenza is a virus…and a virus is a sub-microscopic infectious agent that is unable to grow or reproduce outside a host cell… but can be passed on from host to host.
There are two main types of the influenza (flu) virus… types A and B.
Influenza A and B viruses are responsible for most of the flu epidemics we see ravaging the population each year.
And over the course of a flu season…these viruses are constantly changing and morphing…making each person’s individual flu virus different than from the person they caught it from.
But one thing that doesn’t seem to change are the debilitating symptoms that can bring even the strongest man to his knees…
The symptoms of the common seasonal flu can include…
- Fever.. very high in most cases
- Extreme tiredness, drowsiness, and lethargy
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Aching muscles
- Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
All very nasty on their own… but seem to pal around together when the flu’s in town.
But lucky for us… we have a warning system.
We know when autumn rolls around that flu season isn’t far behind.
And since we know when it’s coming… we can take the necessary precautions to try and avoid it.
It’s predictability it’s own enemy…
But that predictability…or lack of predictability… is precisely what makes these next two culprits a little more dangerous…
Because while their symptoms are the same as the regular influenza virus’…they do not follow a cycle…
And because they don’t…there’s no warning system in place.
Just all of a sudden… we get an outbreak!
In 1997, China and Thailand saw a small outbreak of the Asian or avian subtype of the influenza A virus.
This flu type is extremely contagious in the bird world… and according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) the virus can be spread through:
“Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated secretions or excretions or with surfaces that are contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds. Domesticated birds may become infected with avian influenza virus through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or through contact with surfaces (such as dirt or cages) or materials (such as water or feed) that have been contaminated with the virus.”
The Avian flu is extremely common from bird to bird… but rarely does the virus make the “big leap.. from bird to human.
But close contact to infected domesticated or wild birds can lead to an influenza outbreak in humans.
The outbreak in Thailand was believed to be started by pet chickens… health authorities reported that petting or holding these infected fowls may have been how it started there.
And once one of us has it… he or she can pass it on to the rest.
Again…outbreaks happen with no warning signs…
Just as we didn’t receive any warning sides for our latest influenza outbreak in the form of…The swine flu.
Just like the human type, and the avian subtype… the swine flu is followed by those same common symptoms that can…in extreme cases… lead to death.
But like the avian flu, the swine flu is found mostly among the animal world… and as the name suggests… common among pigs.
The CDC explains swine flu as…
“Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory illness of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses cause high levels of illness and low death rates in pigs. Swine influenza viruses may circulate among swine throughout the year, but most outbreaks occur during the late fall and winter months similar to outbreaks in humans.”
And just as with the avian flu… the swine flu can ‘leap’ to humans who have been in close contact with infected pigs.
Once the virus has found a human home… it can spread from there… changing ever so slightly as it does.
There is however some good news…
You can’t catch either of these two viruses (avian or swine) from eating properly prepared meats made from infected poultry, fowl, or pork.
So don’t worry about eating your ham sandwich or chicken salad… it’s safe.
But as beneficial as this information is… when it comes to virus… common sense is your best defense.
Knowing what you can do to avoid catching any strain of flu is very important… Here are a few tips as to what you can follow…
- Avoid close contact– Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick if possible– Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose– Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Clean your hands– Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth– Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits– Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Practice these preventative tips and be healthy!