Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and can even lead to death. While there are many different types of flu viruses, the most common are influenza A and B.
Influenza A is the most common type of flu virus and is divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). Different combinations of H and N proteins make up the various subtypes of influenza A, such as H1N1 and H3N2. Each year, different strains of influenza circulate throughout the world, causing seasonal flu epidemics.
Influenza B primarily affects humans and is divided into lineages that are named after geographical locations such as Victoria or Yamagata. Influenza B viruses also have an H and N protein but they do not change very often like those in influenza A viruses. As a result, influenza B viruses cause less severe illness than influenza A viruses.
In addition to these two main types of flu, other types include avian flu (H5N1), swine flu (H1N1), and variant virus infections. Avian flu is a type of bird-borne virus that can be deadly to humans who come in contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. Swine flu is an infectious disease in pigs caused by the type A influenza virus that can be transmitted from pigs to humans through direct contact or through airborne particles from coughing or sneezing. Variant virus infections are caused by a hybrid strain created when both swine-origin and human-origin strains infect one host simultaneously, resulting in a new strain with characteristics from both parents.
It’s important to stay informed about all types of flu so that you can take steps to protect yourself and your family from infection. Vaccines are available for some types of flu; however, it’s important to note that not all vaccines will protect against all strains of the virus. Contact your doctor or local health department for more information about which type(s) of vaccine you should get each year.
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other steps you can take to protect yourself from the flu. These include frequent handwashing with soap and warm water, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and staying home when you are sick. It’s also important to keep surfaces clean by disinfecting them regularly.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. Generally speaking, if your symptoms come on suddenly and you have a fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue, it is more likely that you have the flu. If your symptoms are milder and come on slowly over several days, it’s more likely that you have a cold.
If you think that you may have the flu, consult with your doctor right away. Your doctor can help diagnose the type of virus causing your illness and recommend treatment options such as antiviral medications or other therapies. Taking these steps can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and help prevent complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
No matter what type of virus is causing your illness, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from infection. Getting vaccinated each year is one of the best ways to stay healthy during flu season; however, other precautions such as frequent handwashing and avoiding close contact with those who are sick can also help protect you from getting sick.