Communicable Disease Research Paper

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Communicable Disease: Influenza Description of the Disease

Influenza or "the flu" is a common illness in the winter months, all throughout the United States and many other countries. Both birds and all mammals can contract influenza (Brankston, et al., 2007). In recent years there have been scares regarding "bird flu" and "swine flu," both of which are simply different strains of influenza. The cause of the flu is an RNA virus in the family Orthomyxoviridae (Eccles, 2005). Once people contract the flu, they present with common symptoms such as chills, fever, a runny nose, muscle pains, a sore throat, and a headache. The headache is quite often severe, and flu sufferers may also have weakness, fatigue, severe bouts of coughing, and a general feeling of overall discomfort. People with the flu can also become nauseated and vomit, although that is more typical in children and not nearly as common in adults (Eccles, 2005). Many people also confuse influenza with the common cold, as many of the symptoms are similar. However, the flu is much more severe.

The flu is transmitted person to person, and can also be transmitted to people from animals (Eccles, 2005). When a person who has the flu coughs or sneezes, the flu virus is transmitted through the air in the aerosol droplets that are produced. However, there are other ways to contract the flu. If a person touches nasal secretions from an infected person or droppings from an infected bird, he or she can catch influenza (Eccles, 2005). Additionally, viruses can live on various types of surfaces, sometimes for a long time. If a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches his or her nose, eyes, or mouth, the virus can be passed that way. That is why hand washing is discussed so much during flu season. Treatment of the flu is usually in the form of liquids and bed rest, as well as over the counter medications. Tamiflu is a popular option, but can be in short supply during widespread flu outbreaks.

Demographics of Interest

In most people, the flu is a troublesome and annoying illness that makes them feel bad for a few days to a week or longer. However, in very young children,...

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Seasonal epidemics are when the flu is most commonly seen, which translates to between three and five million cases of severe illness every year. Out of those severe illnesses, there are between 250,000 and 500,000 people who die either from the flu itself or from complications surrounding it (Ballinger & Standiford, 2010). In pandemic years, millions of people can die from influenza (Eccles, 2005). Three pandemics occurred in the 20th Century, and these generally occurred when a new strain appeared or the virus mutated in such a way that the current treatments and vaccines for it were not as effective (Harper, et al., 2005). There can be other reasons for pandemics to occur, but those are the most common causes.
People who have preexisting conditions have both higher morbidity and higher mortality rates when it comes to the flu (Eccles, 2005). That is also true of the very young and the very old. The reason babies and the elderly have more trouble with influenza is due to the fact that they do not have the immunity levels seen in older children through middle-aged and senior adults. The same can be said of the people who have immune system issues. That can include people who have HIV or other immune suppressing diseases, but can also include people who have diseases that are not as serious (Brankston, et al., 2007). At times perfectly healthy people die from influenza, as well, and that can include people from any age group. While it is not as common to see this happen as it is to see people who are already sick pass away, there are times when the influenza virus hits someone particularly hard. In those cases, the flu often develops into viral and/or bacterial pneumonia, which can make breathing difficult (Eccles, 2005).

Determinants of Health

Determining a person's health is very important when it comes to judging how they may handle influenza. Of course, that does not mean health is the only factor. Stress, lack of sleep, lifestyle, proper eating habits, and other issues in a person's life can…

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