The Influenza Virus

by Casee Barnes


The influenza virus is a group of RNA viruses in the family of orthomyxoviridae. Every year in the United States, an average of 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu, and about 36,000 people die from it.

Symptoms and Spreading


Influenza is a respiratory illness, so it is spreads from person to person easily in respiratory droplets, which come from coughs or sneezes. These respiratory droplets go from person to person when they enter the mouth or nose of the noninfected person, or when the noninfected person touches something that has the respiratory droplets on it and then touches their mouth or nose.

The common symptoms of the flu are high fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea. They show up one to four days after the virus has entered the body. It is important to be careful around other people even if you do not have the symptoms for influenza; adults can pass the virus one day before symptoms begin to show and up to five days after becoming sick, and children can pass the virus after seven days. Also, some people get the flu and do not have any symptoms and they are able to pass the virus on to others. Therefore, to prevent spreading, it is best to be aware of how you cough or sneeze and how others do as well.

People at any age can get the flu, although it is more severe in older people, young children, people with chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women. These people are more likely to contract other complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infections. Also, people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease are likely to experience worse effects of their chronic disease. A person with asthma may have more asthma attacks, for example.

People should also watch out for warning signs that would need medical attention. The warning signs in children include fast or troubled breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, not waking up, not interacting with the environment, symptoms that improve and then return, and fever with a rash. In adults, people should watch out for difficulty or shortness of breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, and severe or persistent vomiting.



Vaccines


The first step to prevent yourself from getting the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. There are many strains of the flu virus, but the vaccine protects against three main strains and may also lessen the symptoms of other strains. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from person to person but overall, medical studies have shown that it protects people very well.

There are two types of flu vaccines: the “flu shot” that is injected in your arm, and a nasal spray. About two weeks after getting the flu vaccine, the antibodies that protect against the virus begin to form. Nearly everyone should get the flu vaccine, but people that apply to the groups listed below should get the flu vaccine every year to ensure protection:

§ Children from six months until they turn nineteen
§ People that are 50 years of age or older
§ People with certain chronic medical conditions
§ People who live in nursing homes
§
People who work with or care for people who are at high risk for complications with the flu (listed under “Symptoms and Spreading”)

However, there are also people that should not get the flu vaccine. These include people with allergies to chicken eggs, people who have had the flu vaccine before and have had a severe reaction to it, children less than six months of age, and people who are sick with a fever. These people should not take it because allergies and previous reactions show that the person may react badly to the vaccine, because the vaccine is not approved for children under six months, and because people should wait until their immune system is healthier if they already have an illness.

You cannot get the flu from a flu shot, but there are still some side effects, including soreness where the shot was given, a small fever, and aches. Usually people do not have serious problems, but the side effects begin soon after the shot and should be gone after one or two days. The nasal spray, called LAIV, should not cause severe side effects either. Adults can experience runny nose, sore throat, cough, and headache. Children can experience runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.


Other Ways to Prevent and Care For the Flu


Getting the vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. However, you can still practice healthy habits that will make contraction less likely. You should avoid close contact with people who are sick, and avoid close contact with others when you are sick. You should cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as well. Washing your hands will protect you as well by getting rid of germs you may have come into contact with. Also, you should keep yourself healthy overall. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep, being active, and staying home when you are sick will lessen your chances of getting the flu when you are vulnerable.

If you do get sick, you need to take care of yourself so you get better quickly. The first and most effective option is taking antiviral drugs; they should be taken within two days of getting sick, and they help to shorten the time that you are sick. Two examples of these are called oseltamivir and zanamivir. There are also some over-the-counter medications that can help with the symptoms. Other than medications, you should also stay home, rest well, and drink plenty of fluids. Consulting a doctor early can help as well.

Pandemics


A pandemic is when there is a global outbreak of a disease. There have been flu pandemics in the past, such as the most lethal one in 1918, but there is still a possibility of another one happening in the present. It is difficult to predict when a flu pandemic will occur, and it is difficult to prevent the spreading of the virus. A country can try to delay the virus by increasing travel restrictions, but a country cannot stop it from coming.

People are concerned that the avian H5N1 virus will spread. This virus can be transmitted between birds, mammals, and humans, and the virus itself is evolving. There has been a growing number of human cases in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and more than half of the people infected have died. Most of these cases are thought to be caused by eating infected poultry. It is rare for the disease to pass from birds to humans, but it is the most deadly of the avian influenzas. Although there has not been human-to-human transmission found yet, it is a concern that the virus will evolve and that human-to-human spreading will be present in the future.

A severe flu pandemic would cause a high level of disruption. Health care facilities would be overwhelmed, creating a shortage of staff and supplies. Not only that, difficult decisions would have to be made if there was not enough flu vaccines for the people who have been infected. To prevent this from happening, the United States and other countries have been collaborating in detecting outbreaks.


Bibliography


http://www.pandemicflu.gov/
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/index.htm





Ginkgo Biloba and its Health Benefits

By Gage Warren

Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for as long as anyone can remember, and each plant helped with a different ailment. This plant helps cure nausea, this herb alleviates headaches, etc. The plant that will be discussed in this paper is Ginkgo Biloba. It will cover what molecules are beneficial and what they do for the human body.

Extraction
There are two parts in particular that are beneficial, the flavonoids and the terpenoids. There are a number of ways to extract these molecules; the two most common ways are steam extraction and solvent extraction. Steam extract is simply making tea, boiling water and letting crushed leaves steep in the water. Solvent extraction involves a long and involved process, which includes dissolving the flavonoids and terpenoids in a special organic solvent and then purifying the mixture. The benefit to solvent extraction is you collect more of the molecules and you are left with only the flavonoids and terpenoids.

Flavonoids as Antioxidants
Flavonoids are the more useful of the two types of molecules, mainly because of their antioxidant properties. Throughout the human body are molecules called free radicals; these are molecules that have for some reason have lost an electron. The problem with free radicals us that they are highly reactive with anything that they come into contact with and remove electrons from that which they come into contact with. This in turn can disrupt cellular processes and eventually end up harming the cell. Now if this cell is a particularly important cell, like a brain cell, then there could be serious health problems or even death. However, antioxidants beneficial by going through and oxidizing these free radicals. So rather removing electrons from beneficial molecules the free radicals are being oxidized and broken down, similar to how iron rusts when it is oxidized.

Flavonoids and the Brain
Flavonoids have another key use, improving and protecting the brain. Flavonoids are used to suppress neuroinflammation and improve cognitive function. Because of this Ginkgo Biloba is showing promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. In clinical trials subjects have shown improvement in cognitive function, activities of daily living, social behavior, and have displayed fewer feelings of depression. Several studies have shown that Ginkgo Biloba maybe effective as some of the leading Alzheimer’s medications in delaying dementia, and it is sometimes used to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in patients with a family history of it. Flavonoids are also beneficial in helping with mild memory impairment. Since they improve cognitive function, one is able to learn and retain new information better.

Terponoids and the Circulatory System
Now for the terpenoids, these are beneficial when dealing with the circulatory system. Terpenoids do two main things, they dilate blood vessels and they reduce the stickiness of platelets. By dilating blood vessels more blood is able to move through the circulatory system. This has several implications, one being that if blood is moving more freely then the heart does not have to work as hard to pump it through the body, thus lowering ones blood pressure and reducing strain on the heart. Also if blood is flowing better then this will increase the rate at which materials and mainly oxygen get transported to other parts of the body. Terpenoids also reduce the stickiness of platelets. Now this seems rather self explanatory, if platelets are less sticky then there is less of a chance of a blockage or clot forming in the blood stream. This is true, but there are other things to consider. If your platelets are not sticking together as well as they should be then, it is going to be difficult for wounds to stop bleeding. Now for a normally healthy individual this is not a big deal, but for people with hemophilia or other clotting disorders this could be a serious problem.

In conclusion, Ginkgo Biloba has many health benefits; which include improving mental health, improving circulation, and reducing the number of free radicals in one’s system. It is a plant that needs to be continually researched and may one day help to drastically improve our health.

References

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/ginkgo-biloba-000247.htm

Lichtblau, Dirk, John M. Berger, and Koji Nakanishi. "Efficient Extraction of Ginkgolides and Bilobalides from Ginkgo biloba Leaves."
J. Nat. Prod. 65 (2002) 1501-1504