Influenza has become one of the hallmarks of the cold days of the year, and since it usually appears mild and goes away before long, we treat it as a normal phenomenon. That said, the truth beneath the surface is often more grievous. Categorized into four types of A-D, influenza is commonly spread among various animal species, ranging from humans to birds to pigs. Mainly caused by type A and B, influenza can bring about different symptoms in humans, such as high temperature, muscle pain, fatigue, dry cough, and sore throat, which vary in severity level and period. Despite the various influenza vaccines and some FDA-approved antiviral medications that can help treat influenza, there is no specific way to eliminate the influenza virus. That is primarily due to the nature of flu viruses that constantly mutate and undergo antigenic shifts and drifts. Nevertheless, we can avert influenza advancement to a large extent through yearly vaccination and other prevention methods.
Influenza Vaccine: The Best Solution to Stand against Influenza
As mentioned above, influenza viruses are constantly mutating, more significantly in influenza type A and influenza type B, the leading causes of seasonal flu and global pandemics. These viruses can alter in two ways: antigenic drift and antigenic shift. While the former refers to minor changes in the two proteins on the virus’s surface, hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA), the latter occurs when a significant mutation happens abruptly. Either of these changes can introduce a novel subtype unknown to our immune systems. Therefore, there is no permanent cure for influenza. The influenza vaccine, however, can stop local and global epidemics, as it prevents millions of illnesses each year. Though the influenza vaccine does not guarantee complete protection against the virus, it effectively reduces the severity of possible infections and flu-associated hospitalization.
Types of Influenza Vaccines
A range of influenza vaccines is available, which differ in age restriction, administration routes, and the response they trigger. Some CDC-suggested vaccines include FluLaval Quadrivalent, Flublok Quadrivalent, Afluria Quadrivalent, Fluad Quadrivalent, and Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent. Moreover, people aged 2 to 49 can go with FluMist Quadrivalent, publicly known as nasal spray or LAIV; it is sprayed once into each nostril and lacks the troubles of an injection. Anyone 6 months and older is recommended to get a flu vaccine every year. That said, pregnant people and those with chronic health conditions, along with children and the elderly, should be more alert concerning vaccination, as their weakened immune systems put them at a higher risk of infection and further long-term complications.
The Importance of Biosimilar Influenza Vaccines
A dose of influenza vaccine costs $20 on average and can soar to $90 and more, while many European countries cover the charges of a flu vaccine for eligible people who are at a high risk of flu complications. Adding to that, most insurance plans encompass the costs too. Nevertheless, the circumstances are not in favor of the majority of the population in developing countries, as the price tags seem too stiff to deal with. Because of this, many manufacturers have recently drifted their focus toward biosimilar products. Through the use of biosimilar technology, pharma companies like Opal Biopharma (OBP) try to produce biosimilars with similar functions but at a lower cost. They go through a series of rigorous tests and evaluations to make sure the products will be safe and perform similarly as well as being safe. Thanks to these efforts, more people from all areas have access to the influenza vaccine, which promises a remarkable improvement for public health.
More Ways to Prevent Influenza Spread
All influenza types are transmitted in a similar way via the air from respiratory droplets made during sneezing, coughing, or talking. What is more, these droplets are able to survive shortly on different objects, especially hard surfaces like plastic or stainless steel. Thus, it is crucial to stick with some beneficial habits to avoid getting sick as easily as the virus can pass on. Steering away from infected people and avoiding any direct contact comes first. Following that, everyone should wash their hands regularly and stop touching their nose, eyes, and mouth as the primary areas where the flu virus can reach their respiratory system. Covering your cough, whether you are sick or not, and valuing both personal hygiene and the cleanliness of your workplace can be highly effective in flu prevention. More general habits, such as a healthy lifestyle comprising a healthy diet and enough rest, can contribute to a more robust immune system in the long run. Thus, there is less chance for influenza viruses to get you infected.
What to Do During Recuperation
A fruitful resistance against the contagion of influenza cannot be fulfilled merely through prevention methods. As members of different communities, we are responsible for each other’s well-being, and that is why we need to stop the spread of the influenza virus when infected, as well as conserve ourselves. As soon as you notice some symptoms — which usually pop up within one to three days after infection — you should take some time off work and get enough rest. This is pivotal to begin your recovery procedure and prevent others from getting sick. For the next step, before rushing for drugs and painkillers, you can get on simply with home remedies to get back your strength. Some include taking lots of liquids, vitamin C, ginger, and honey. Moreover, inhalation in a more humid environment is especially advantageous in reducing nasal inflammation.
Treatments for Influenza
The ratio of influenza’s prevalence to its severity is usually inverse, meaning that most people should expect mild illness. Thus, staying home and receiving lots of liquids and healthy food might do the job. In other words: treat it as a cold! However, you need to monitor your recovery course and see if you are improving in your health status. In case the situation takes a turn for the worse, you had better consult your healthcare provider and take medications to speed up your recovery and prevent further complications like bacterial pneumonia. Although these drugs can always benefit you, the best time to start each treatment is within two days of getting sick. Additionally, some painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can aid you in alleviating body aches and fever. Aspirin could also work, but it can severely impact children and teenagers, causing them a rare illness called Reye syndrome. It is also worth mentioning that antibiotics are fairly useless — and possibly with adverse effects — for influenza treatment; their principal difference from antivirals is their application for bacterial infections, not viral ones.
Antiviral Drugs for Influenza
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends four different antiviral drugs approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These antivirals include zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), oseltamivir phosphate (under the trade name Tamiflu® or as a generic version), baloxavir marboxil (trade name Xofluza®), and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®). Though all these drugs share a single purpose, they vary in age restrictions, and thus, it is best to consult your doctor first instead of taking them impulsively. Zanamivir is, for instance, used for people 7 years and older in the early stages of flu, and baloxavir works best for people 12 years and older, as well as children aged 5 to 12 years without chronic medical conditions. This is while people 6 months and older are allowed to use peramivir, and Tamiflu® and generic oseltamivir cover the broadest scope, approved for anyone 14 days and older. Moreover, each of these drugs may cause a few side effects, including vomiting, nausea, and, in some cases, diarrhea. The elderly and patients with special medical conditions should always keep these medications as an option since they are at a higher risk for flu complications. That said, pregnant people are recommended to receive oral oseltamivir, which has been proven safer during pregnancy.
Influenza is undoubtedly one of the most endemic viral infections worldwide. It affects the upper or lower respiratory tract and results in mild or acute symptoms. The permeant mutation of the viruses rules out a definite cure for influenza, though there are various flu vaccines and multiple antiviral drugs that could give us a leap toward betterment if we get infected. Therefore, we can only try as much to make our environment safer for everyone by preventive methods. Introducing the requisite antibodies to the body via the influenza vaccine is the most reliable way to cope with influenza. Besides, we can take advantage of some elementary habits, such as avoiding contact with infected people and washing hands frequently.