Escaping the Flu This Winter
What is Influenza?
Influenza is a virus that appears in primarily three strains: A, B, and C. The virus hits hardest during the winter months of December to March. It is highly contagious, and can pass from human to human via air particles. The dry winter air is another factor in the frequent and rapid spread of the virus.
There are several ways to distinguish the flu from a cold. While the common cold causes such symptoms as sore throat, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and nasal congestion, the flu appears with strong systematic symptoms that the cold does not—fever over 39℃, headaches, joint pain and muscular aches—in addition to sore throat, runny nose, and other symptoms typical of a cold. In bad cases, the flu can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia or encephalitis, and could potentially result in death.
Keeping your room humidified, maintaining a balanced diet and sleep pattern, washing your hands on a regular basis and gargling are recommended as prevention measures. Keeping your body hydrated is very important, so you should make sure to take in plenty of fluids. Those with a busy work schedule with little down time are strongly encouraged to take particular care in watching out for symptoms, and to get adequate amounts of sleep. The influenza vaccine is highly recommended for preventing potentially dangerous symptoms, high fevers, or hospitalization. High risk persons, such as those over 65 years old and those with underlying diseases (such as respiratory, circulatory, and immune deficiency diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, etc.) are especially advised to get the vaccine.
To find out when and where vaccines are being offered in your area, you can inquire at local clinics or hospitals, or ask an acquaintance, aboutインフルエン予防接種 (infuruenza yobousesshu).
Early treatment is important to limit the spread of the virus to others, as well as to lessen the risk for yourself. You should begin taking medications as soon as symptoms appear, as the influenza virus multiplies rapidly in the human body. Please see a doctor immediately (within 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms) if you think you are exhibiting symptoms—while over-the-counter cold medicines may relieve fever, nasal congestion and other discomforts, they do not have any effect on the virus itself, and thus relying on them could actually increase the risk to your health and the health of those around you.
The Avian flu is caused by a strain of the Influenza A virus known as H5N1. This type of flu, once found only in birds, has, since 1997 when the first case was discovered in Hong Kong, been known to transmit from birds to humans. While the virus is found commonly among birds in Asia, human cases are rare, limited mainly to those who work with or live in close proximity to poultry. However, the virus, which travels via saliva, nasal secretion, and feces, has potential to mutate into more infectious forms. Although there are no confirmed cases of human to human transference, there is a chance that the virus could evolve into a strain that passes between humans, potentially setting off a worldwide pandemic.
According to a recent WHO consensus (October 16, 2006), the Avian flu has been found among poultry and wild bird populations throughout Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, including Japan. However, human cases, totaling 256 with 152 deaths on record, have been reported in only a handful of countries so far, with significant numbers appearing in China (21 cases, 14 deaths), Egypt (15 cases, 7 deaths), Indonesia (72 cases, 55 deaths), Thailand (25 cases, 17 deaths), and Vietnam (93 cases, 42 deaths). No human cases have been reported in Japan. Health organizations such as the WHO state that there is very low risk to tourists traveling to these regions, but advise travelers to follow these guidelines:
1)Avoid contact with wild birds and live poultry.
2)Avoid visiting live animal markets and poultry farms.
3)Avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with animal droppings and feces.
4)Avoid handling birds found dead.
5)Do not eat or handle undercooked or raw poultry, eggs, or duck dishes.
6)Keep good personal hygiene and wash hands frequently.
7)Upon return from travels, monitor your health for 10 days； if symptoms appear, notify a doctor of
(a) the symptoms, (b) where you traveled, and (c) if you had any direct contact with poultry or close contact with ill person(s).
Symptoms of the Avian flu include sudden fever (over 100.4°F or 38°C), sore throat, muscle aches, headache, lethargy, conjunctivitis (eye infections), difficulty breathing, and chest pains. While there is little risk to those who do not come into contact with wild birds or poultry, in general it is advised to wash hands after any contact with birds, especially ducks and chickens, and to make special care to keep children out of contact with wild birds and poultry. There have been no reports of infection from eating cooked chicken or eggs, but if you are concerned, cooking the poultry and eggs well will kill any virus.
Often confused with the Avian flu is SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which also causes a sudden fever, shortness of breath and body aches, but is further accompanied by cases of diarrhea, dry cough, and sometimes pneumonia. There is no vaccine for either disease, and while the symptoms are similar, they are actually two quite different diseases—the coronavirus that causes SARS is more similar to the common cold than the influenza virus. Also, while there have yet to be found any strains of Avian flu that jump from human to human, SARS is known to pass between humans through saliva, secretions, and close contact or shared living. After the 2003 SARS outbreak, during which over 8,000 were infected and 774 died, SARS was successfully contained, and there are currently no reported cases of the disease.
While there is little current risk of contracting either disease among the general population, it is important to practice good hygiene (such as frequent hand-washing), refrain from contact with wild or farm birds, follow the travel guidelines, and keep up to date on developments of the disease and the prevention measures being taken by health organizations. For more information, visit the WHO website at:
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