As temperatures grow colder, the risk of catching the flu virus and spreading the infection among the population rises as well. But what makes the influenza virus so dangerous? For Virus Appreciation Day on October 3rd and the beginning of flu season, we have put together all important information on influenza (or flu).
Influenza viruses are constantly mutating
Influenza, also called the flu, is one of the most significant infectious respiratory diseases. It is caused by the subtype A or B influenza virus. What is most dangerous about the influenza virus is that it quickly mutates and develops new subtypes. Therefore, it is possible to catch the flu several times in a lifetime. Moreover, it is difficult to provide an effective vaccine as it must be redeveloped every year. Predictions regarding influenza strains which are most likely to circulate in the coming flu season provide the basis for a new vaccine.
Influenza viruses are quickly transmitted
Flu waves occur because influenza is very contagious. When coughing, sneezing or talking, small virus-containing droplets are released to the air and may be inhaled by others. Moreover, influenza viruses can survive on surfaces such as doorknobs or handles in public transport for up to two days. Preventive measures include regular thorough hand washing and avoiding hand contact with the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth or nose.
The flu can have a severe course of disease
Elderly people, pregnant women, children and people with weakened immune system are particularly at risk of a serious infection with potentially fatal complications. The most frequent complications include pneumonia and – especially in children – otitis media. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends flu vaccination for these risk groups as well as for persons with frequent human contact such as medical personnel.