Cold and Flu season: It's here!
This is the time of year we begin hearing ads for disinfectants, medicines, and tissues. People become suspicious of anyone who sneezes. But what is "the flu" exactly and how does it actually work?
The flu and colds are both caused by viruses. Viruses are tiny particles that require a cell from a living host to reproduce, like a parasite. They carry the instructions for reproduction inside them but lack the cellular equipment to do it, so they use yours. Each type of virus needs certain types of cells within your body. The Flu virus uses the cells that line the respiratory or digestive tract.
First, it puts its genetic information into a cell. This genetic information takes control of the cell's equipment and uses it to make new viruses. They then make their escape and each seek out more cells to use for reproduction. Fortunately, humans usually come equipped with impressive internal defenses.
The flu virus travels on particles in the air emitted from an infected person. It isn't caused by getting cold. The flu appears to have a "season" because people are spending more time packed together indoors and it can't survive in the hot humid Oklahoma summer environment as well. Flu viruses prefer the dry and cold, so it's simply more prevalent in the winter time. They can live on surfaces much longer in the winter and do not require as direct a transmission from host to host to survive.
A virus' susceptibility to heat explains fevers. Fevers are your body's way of creating an unlivable and unproductive environment for the invaders so that the warrior cells can get them under control.
A very important fact to know is that viruses are not like bacteria. Antibiotics do nothing to fight them them and may even prevent a return to health if taken unnecessarily by aiding in the development of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections while your immune system is already busy fighting the virus. Unless you've acquired a bacterial infection, don't use them.
Antiviral agents (like Tamiflu or Relenza) don't kill a virus, they inhibit its reproduction process. Remember, there are always side effects involved with any drug and antivirals are not always recommended for otherwise healthy individuals. New strains of viruses have been popping up in recent years with resistance to current antivirals. So far, studies have not linked it to abuse of antiviral agents. However, the World Health Organization still worries that this may be a contributing factor.
1 Be sure to speak with your doctor.