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How does the Influenza Virus Spread?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The influenza virus affects the lungs and upper airways. Commonly called flu, the virus is most often spread from person to person. When a person infected with the virus sneezes or coughs, the virus can be passed through the air to an uninfected person in tiny droplets of saliva. Skin to skin contact can also spread this virus.

The influenza virus is characterized by a high temperature that appears very rapidly, followed by aches and pains throughout the body. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, nausea, and extreme lethargy. Sneezing and a dry cough may also be present.

The sufferer may also have difficulty achieving sleep and will usually feel sweaty and feverish. A blocked or runny nose is another common symptom of this condition. It usually takes around two days for the symptoms to appear after infection. The sufferer will remain infectious for at least five days after the influenza symptoms appear.

The influenza virus is often mistaken for the common cold, but the flu affects the lungs much more than a cold does. The elderly and those with a weak immune system are very susceptible to this virus. The virus is most commonly spread during the winter months.

The influenza virus is classified into three categories: A, B, and C. Type A is the most serious and usually appears every two or three years. Type A is prone to mutation and regularly produces strains to which people have no resistance. Type A influenza has caused many epidemics and is also responsible for pandemics, in which entire continents are affected.

Type B influenza is the strain responsible for smaller outbreaks of the infection. If you have been infected with type B once, then your immune system will successfully resist this type of virus for many years. Type B commonly infects children aged five to 14 who have never been infected before.

Type C influenza is a very mild strain of the infection. The symptoms of type C are similar to symptoms of a common cold. The influenza virus is typically treated with bedrest and the intake of plenty of fluids. If you have a weakened immune system, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help fight the virus.

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Nov 10, 2014

There are hundreds of types of flu virus out there and new variations form every year. I've read that some of these can actually pass through sexual contact as well. Obviously, kissing someone or being in touch with saliva in any way can pass the virus.

The thing is though, since it's so easy for the virus to spread, it's kind of inevitable in areas where people are in close proximity like cities. Thankfully, the seasonal flu virus isn't very dangerous and most people get over it in a week. But if a more dangerous type of flu virus made entry into the US like Avian flu, then it could spread quickly and make many people very sick.

By bear78 — On Nov 09, 2014

@candyquilt-- That's not surprising because as far as I know, the flu virus can remain in the air for several hours. So let's say you picked up coffee at a coffee shop before work. If someone with the flu had been there and sneezed or coughed, the virus can remain in the tiny moisture droplets in air for several hours. So even though the person with the flu is no longer there, the virus is and anyone can pick it up by inhaling the air.

The virus will also pass through shared cups, utensils and even lipstick.

By candyquilt — On Nov 09, 2014

I have the flu right now. I have no idea how I got it because I have not been around anyone who was coughing or sneezing. I've just been to work and no one at work is sick. Neither are my family members. This makes me wonder if the virus spreads in other ways as well.

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