Influenza is a very contagious virus that mainly affects the respiratory system and can be very uncomfortable. It tends to be seasonal and, although it's not dangerous for everyone, it can cause complications in very young people, the elderly or those who already have other existing health conditions. The most common types of flu that affect humans tend to mutate into new strains, which can often cause a delay in the development of vaccines.
There is no cure for influenza and once you've contracted it it's up to the immune system to deal with the virus, however there are ways to deal with the uncomfortable symptoms or shorten the duration of your illness. Tamiflu and Relenza are two different antiviral medications that can be taken to prevent influenza or to shorten recovery time if you have already been infected.
What is influenza?
Influenza is caused by airborne viruses that circulate in our environment all year round, although they tend to be more common during colder times during the year. Flu enters into the body through the respiratory system and can spread very quickly from one person to the next. Generally it can take from three to 15 days for the virus to recover from flu symptoms, which can include headaches, coughing, lethargy or muscle aches.
What are common influenza symptoms?
Influenza symptoms usually appear very suddenly, with the full onset taking place within 24 to 48 hours. Some of the common influenza symptoms include:
- High fever
- Chills and shivering
- Tiredness due to restless sleep
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Lack of appetite
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
While most people can fight off these influenza symptoms providing they take plenty of rest, some people can experience serious complications as a result of contracting the flu in which case medication like Tamiflu is recommended. Complications that can arise from the flu include dehydration, bacterial pneumonia and worsening of certain medical conditions like cardiovascular problems, asthma or diabetes.
It is important to know the difference between the flu and a common cold so you can take the most appropriate remedial action. A cold will typically last for a few days and is classed as a minor respiratory illness. You may experience a runny nose, a cough and have some trouble breathing. The flu is very much a longer lasting illness and can take hold of you for days or weeks. It is much more extreme and needs to be dealt with quickly before it spreads and it becomes more serious.
What are the different types of flu virus?
The most common forms of flu in humans can be caused by either the influenza A or B virus. Influenza B tends to be the most common, while influenza A is commonly the origin of seasonal strains of flu. Influenza is also one of the most dangerous types.
Both of these viruses have similar symptoms, which is why the only way to differentiate them is to do a sputum and blood test. Apart from these two main types, there is also influenza C, which is far less virulent and more likely to affect young children who haven’t had a chance to develop a natural immunity to it.
Influenza strains A and B frequently mutate and new viral strains are created every few years. These viruses spread very quickly and the most serious strains, usually type A, can cause a serious pandemic leading to many fatalities.
What influenza treatments are available?
Tamiflu is an anti-viral prescription treatment that provides protection for all three types of the influenza virus. It helps to provide relief from unpleasant influenza symptoms and improves your recovery time by one to two days if taken within the first 24 hours. Tamiflu prevents the virus from spreading in your body, so that the virus is contained and your own immune system can tackle it more effectively. You can also use Tamiflu to prevent the onset of flu if you think you may have caught the virus from someone who is infected.
Relenza is a very similar treatment to Tamiflu, and can also protect you against all three types of influenza. Relenza is taken through an inhaler, rather than as a tablet. This allows it to pass quickly into your lungs, helping the medication to work faster.