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Facts about Common Cold and Flu

by Medindia Content Team on March 6, 2006 at 1:56 PM
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Facts about Common Cold and Flu

Avian influenza has lately received all the attention across the globe. It is thought that the virus strain H5N1 is mainly spread through migratory birds.

But the present scenario deals with the possible pandemic outbreak and how it can be dealt. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that about 169 human cases with 91 deaths have been reported.

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Human cases of avian influenza are distributed in seven countries: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

Flu is an infection of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus. There are three types of influenza virus: A, B, and C. Types A and B cause severe disease. An example of a type A strain is the emerging avian influenza virus or bird flu.
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The viruses change constantly and therefore the body's natural defence system cannot keep up with these changes. Hence a vaccine cannot be formulated. Type C causes a very mild illness or no symptoms at all. The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses.

The flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or result in hospitalization.

Over-the-counter medications are available to treat the symptoms of cold.

Paracetamol is generally used to treat cold. But studies show that paracetamol and aspirin worsen asthma and peptic ulcers.

Aspirin should not be used in children under 18 years because it may play a role in causing Reye's syndrome which results in a rare and severe liver and central nervous system condition. Congestion, cough and nasal discharge may be treated with a decongestant, antihistamine or a combination of the two.

Certain people, such as those with thyroid disease or high blood pressure should check with the doctor. Dosage instructions should be followed strictly. Herbs and minerals such as echinacea, maitake, zinc, and vitamin C have also been found to be useful in preventing and speeding up recovery time.

Eight glasses of water and/or juice per day is recommended. This will help keep the lining of the nose and throat from drying out, so that mucus remains moist and easy to clear from the nose. Smoke will irritate the throat and will result in worsening of the cough.

On the other hand flu medications are mainly to minimize the discomfort but these medications do not treat the virus infection.

There are effective treatments available which will facilitate in the reduction of the duration of the disease. The four antiviral medications available to treat the influenza virus are oseltamivir, zanamivir, amantadine, rimantadine. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that nations prepare for the threat of a pandemic situation by stockpiling anti-viral drugs.

Oseltamivir and zanamivir are considered the first line of defence against the bird flu virus. They work by inhibiting neuraminidase, an enzyme essential for the release of recently formed virus particles from infected cells. Therefore, the drugs are able to prevent the virus from spreading inside the body.

Zanamivir has just been approved by the Health Ministry to treat bird flu and the route of administration is by oral inhalation through an inhalation device.

Other complications associated with the flu are Pneumonia sinusitis, bronchitis and ear infections. This occurs when the flu virus or bacteria gets into the lungs when the body's defence system is weakened by the flu.

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