Infections caused by bird flu were spreading in humans less than a year ago through farming, food, and traveling. Bird flu became a very real scare, claiming numerous lives worldwide. The avian influenza (H5N1) virus is a subtype of influenza A, one of the most common human influenza viruses.
If you’re currently immersed in a bowl of chicken soup, you already know that influenza is one of the most common and contagious viruses. Almost everyone will get infected at some point in their life, and flu shots may or may not help. In many cases, influenza vaccines have been known to cause influenza. As you’ve probably guessed from your accumulating tissue pile and difficulty breathing, the flu is a respiratory infection. The virus attacks your nose, throat, and lungs to spread more uncomfortable symptoms throughout your body, like a cold, but worse.
Influenza viruses occurring in humans are typically one of two types: A or B. Both of these viruses are recognized for causing seasonal flu outbreaks every year. Throughout the duration of a flu season, various types and subtypes of influenza spread from one person to another, causing sickness. There is also an influenza C virus, which is considered to be more mild and not thought to result in an epidemic.
Type A or B?
Seasonal flu epidemics are usually attributed to either influenza A, which can have numerous subtypes, or influenza B. They each cause the same symptoms, and can be treated the same way. Influenza A viruses can be broken down into different subtypes based on the proteins on the surface of the virus – hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) – and can be further separated into strains. Presently, subtypes of influenza A occurring in humans include H1N1 and H3N2.
Influenza B viruses are not separated into subtypes, but may be further divided into various strains. One strain of influenza B is used in the seasonal flu shot each year to prevent catching the particular strain that researchers anticipate to cause illness in that year’s flu season. Influenza A (H1N1) and A (H3N2) are also included in flu vaccines.
Regardless of the type of flu you have, the symptoms will be very similar. At first, you may feel like a common cold, with post-nasal drip, sneezing, and sore throat. If your symptoms appear abruptly rather than gradually worsening over the course of several days, you likely have a flu rather than a cold virus. Influenza also brings with it several other symptoms the common cold typically does not. Usual indicators of the flu may include:
- Chills and sweats
- Dry cough
- Energy loss and weakness
- High fever (more than 100°F/38°C)
- Muscle aches (mostly in the back, arms, and legs)
- Nasal congestion
- Nausea and vomiting
As a virus, influenza will normally leave your body on its own. Most symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to reduce fever, headache, and body aches, though aspirin is not recommended. Rest is also a large contributor to recovering from the flu. There are various ways to treat the flu at home, such as making a steam tent, and drinking plenty of fluids. Hold off on party mode for a while and avoid alcohol and tobacco, as these can reduce your immune strength.
In most cases, you will not need to see a doctor, which can save you time and money, though if you are unsure of your symptoms or have an increased risk of complications, like a medical condition affecting your immune system, for instance, a consultation is necessary. Additionally, if you still have symptoms after 3 or 4 days, you should see a doctor. If you are prone to developing severe illness, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. These are usually most effective when taken within the first two days of your first symptoms.
If you’re usually in good health and know when your body has a flu virus, you can likely skip the doctor altogether, spend your money on soup and tea, and take a few days off to recuperate.
How Your Health Plan Can Help
Most people will not need to see the doctor if they are infected with a flu virus, which is ideal. However, if your symptoms persist for longer than usual, or you are susceptible to complications, an office visit is mandatory. Otherwise, a flu virus in a sick or aged person can potentially cause death. Know your body, and take initiative if you have to. Many people visit the doctor when they have the flu, and don’t really need to. It is helpful to be diagnosed by a professional, however, especially if you cannot clearly identify your symptoms or are already sick.
A health insurance plan is your key to the quality provider of your choice, giving you the ability to get treated quickly and for a reasonable cost. If you have a comprehensive plan, you’ll be able to visit your doctor for a flat fee of $20 to $50 – a significant difference from the $79 to $89 at Minute Clinic, and $120ish out-of-pocket cost without insurance, paying cash. Additionally, when you have coverage, immunizations, such as the flu vaccine, are free.
1. Image: Medimoon.com
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of Influenza Viruses.
3. Mayo Clinic. Influenza (flu).
4. PubMed Health. Flu.