Influenza season is already unfolding in the U.S. While health authorities see an increase in the number of patients as of January 2017, this does not necessarily set the stage for an impending epidemic. It is true that influenza also affects representatives of the animal kingdom just as easily as it takes its toll on humans. More worrying is that an epidemic of H5N8, H5N6, and H7N9 is currently sweeping through Asia at an alarming rate. So far, three deaths have already been associated with complications caused by the H7N9 strain that three individuals contracted after they consumed infected bird meat.
Types of Influenza
Influenza strains are named after hemagglutinin and neuraminidase proteins. These are present on the surface of the type A influenza virus and allows it to grab onto and subsequently infect cells. As of now, scientists identified 18 hemagglutinin subtypes and 11 neuraminidase subtypes. Hence, the digits in H5N6, for example, refer to the proteins’ subtypes.
However, type A influenza is just one variation of the disease. Other types include type B, C, and D. Humans are most susceptible to type A and type B viruses, with the latter deemed more dangerous for children. In contrast, type C is exponentially milder, and type D is known to infect mostly cattle.
Also, while type A influenza is identified by the proteins’ subtypes, type B is named after its place of origin, “Brisbane” influenza, for reference.
Doctors recommend U.S. citizen to get a flu shot in order to avoid an epidemic. However, the virus strains change from one year to the next. As a result, health experts can mostly guess what strain will mark the beginning of a new flu season. However, in the process of creating the most efficient vaccine, scientists analyze the strains that have circulated in Asia one year before the disease sets in America.
In Europe, hundreds of thousands of ducks, chicken, and turkey have already been slaughtered because of the epidemic. Also, approximately 30 million birds have been killed by the Korean government in order to prevent H5N6 from spreading further. So far, pigs and birds are most susceptible to the disease, besides humans. Health officials fear that the illness could mutate, giving birth to the next global outbreak, much like the one that swept the globe in 1918. So far, warnings have been issued for the H7N9 strain that already claimed three human lives in China.
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