Editor, PlanetArabia Magazine
Influenza, or the flu, has stubbornly accompanied man and animal throughout centuries, wiping out communities. An invisible menace capable of driving humanity to extinction.
It is commonly believed that hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting can prevent the spread of mutating flu viruses.
Pneumologist Motassim Kanj explains, “Garbage lurking around our streets nowadays have no effect on spreading flu. The real culprits are humidity and crowding. Humidity is a conduit used by viruses to travel through the air, and crowded spaces facilitate their spread”.
“Using public transportation, gatherings in places of worship, marketplaces and other crowded areas spread viruses. Masks can help but with varying effectiveness. The best mask is the surgical mask, N95, which is capable of providing protection up to 98%, while other types of masks are less effective or even useless,” Kanj adds.
Flu vs. common cold
A flu differs from the common cold. Different types of flu have different symptoms. The flu has three main symptoms, namely fever, headache and joint pains. Other symptoms include stomach ache, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, fatigue, gastric problems and cough.
The common cold, on the other hand, is a relatively harmless viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, restricted to the nose and throat, with cough, runny nose, sneezing and congestion.
From animal to human
The six pandemic phases see viruses start with animals and birds and then move to humans. In phase 1, viruses move between animals, but do not infect humans. In Phase 2, viruses start moving from animals to some humans. In Phase 3, viruses are transmitted from animals to small clusters of humans. In Phase 4, the virus starts travelling from human to human. In Phase 5, the virus spreads in at least two countries, and in Phase 6, which is the pandemic phase, the virus turns into a global threat.
The importance of vaccination
Pediatrician Mayya Rahal says, “vaccination is the best protection against various known flu viruses. Basically everyone needs to be vaccinated, starting at the age of six months. Usually persons at greater risk are those below the age of 2 and above the age of 60. Individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiac problems must also be vaccinated. Pregnant women and unborn fetuses are also at high risk. This is why the World Health Organization (WHO) now allows pregnant women to be vaccinated in their first trimester”.
The flu vaccine is an annual shot which is recommended to be taken every September or October to heighten the body’s immune system. The vaccine is continuously modified to include protection against new viruses. For example, this year’s virus included commonly circulating strains such as the antigenic variations of the swine flu, H1N1, H1N2 and H3N2.
The vaccine causes antibodies to develop about two weeks after vaccination. If taken in October, the immune system starts to build up by early November and keeps the body protected throughout the flu laden winter season.
However, the flu vaccine has side effects. Rahal says “the vaccine’s various adverse effect include high fever, nausea, headache, muscle aches, fainting, soreness, redness and swelling”.