Explaining the Flu Strains: H5N1, H1N1, H3N2

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines influenza as a viral infection that is spread from person to person worldwide and at any age group. There are three types of seasonal influenza that you have probably heard of — A, B and C. Influenza A is the H1N1 and the H3N2 types among people. Type C influenza occurs much less than A or B, H5N1 is known as the bird flu. Bird flu is difficult for humans to catch except when in close contact with infected poultry.

H1N1 or H3N2 -Swine Flu: This is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus. Swine flu viruses do not normally affect humans, however, they have occurred. It is contagious and spreads from person to person.

H5N1 or Bird Flu: Bird flu is an influenza A virus subtype and is also highly contagious among birds. People have little or no immunity to the H5N1 (Bird) flu. Avoid close contact with any infected birds or their surroundings.

Seasonal influenza is spread through schools, nursing homes, households and businesses when the infected droplets from a cough enter the air and you breathe it in. Less often people get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it. You may be passing the flu to someone else even before you develop symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms:

Sudden onset of high fever and chills Dry cough Headache Muscle and joint pain, body aches Severe malaise or not feeling well, very tired Sore throat Runny nose or stuffy nose

The age group at highest risk of complications from influenza is actually among children younger than age two, adults age 65 and older and people with chronic medical conditions. Complications of getting the flu include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, congestive heart failure and worsening of any chronic medical conditions.

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Vaccinations are constantly changing and target the three most prevalent strains that are occurring. The 2011- 2012 flu vaccine will protect you against influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. The “flu shot” is an inactivated vaccine (killed virus), and the nasal spray flu vaccine is a weakened live virus that doesn’t cause the flu. Within two weeks after receiving the influenza vaccine you will develop antibodies to help protect against the flu.

To prevent transmission, people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and wash your hands regularly with soap and water. The CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever (100 °F or 37.8°C) is gone and seeking medical help. Drink plenty of clear fluids and get plenty of rest. Your healthcare provider may recommend the use of an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza.

Terry L. Doire is a registered nurse with more than thirty years of experience in various areas of health care.

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