Various forms of Influenza Viruses
By Vinay Choubey
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an infectious disease of birds and mammals caused by an RNA virus of the family Orthomyxoviridae (the influenza viruses). In people, common symptoms are fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, and weakness and fatigue. In more serious cases, influenza causes pneumonia, which can be fatal particularly in young children and the elderly. Sometimes confused with the common cold, influenza is a much more severe disease and caused by a different type of virus. Similarly, the unrelated gastroenteritis is sometimes called "stomach flu" or "24-hour flu".
Types of influenza virus
The influenza virus is an RNA virus of the family Orthomyxoviridae, which comprises the influenzaviruses, Isavirus and Thogotovirus. There are three types of influenza virus: Influenzavirus A, Influenzavirus B or Influenzavirus C. Influenza A and C infect multiple species, while influenza B almost exclusively infects humans.
The type A viruses are the most virulent human pathogens among the three influenza types and cause the most severe disease. The Influenza A virus can be subdivided into different serotypes based on the antibody response to these viruses.
Influenza B virus is almost exclusively a human pathogen, and is less common than influenza A. The only other animal known to be susceptible to influenza B infection is the seal. This type of influenza mutates at a rate 2-3 times lower than type A and consequently is less genetically diverse, with only one influenza B serotype. As a result of this lack of antigenic diversity, a degree of immunity to influenza B is usually acquired at an early age.
The influenza C virus infects humans and pigs, and can cause severe illness and local epidemics. However, influenza C is less common than the other types and usually seems to cause mild disease in children.
PATHOGENESIS AND DISEASE
The virus is spread person to person via small particle aerosols (less than 10μm diameter) that can get into respiratory tract. It can also survive for a short time on surfaces and can be spread by this route if the virus is introduced into the before it loses infectivity. The incubation period is short, about 18 to 72 hours.
Virus concentration in nasal and tracheal secretions remains high for 24 to 48 hours after symptoms start and may last longer in children. Titers are usually high and so there are enough infectious virions in a small droplet to start a new infection.
Site of infection
Influenza virus infects the epithelial cells of the respiratory tract. The cells die, in part due to the direct effects of the virus on the cell, and also possibly due to the effects of interferon. Cell death at later times may also result from the actions of cytotoxic T-cells. As a result, the efficiency of ciliary clearance is reduced, leading to impaired function of the mucus elevator; thus there is reduced clearance of infectious agents from the respiratory tract. Gaps in the protective epithelium provide other pathogens with access to other cells; however, viremia is very rare.
Interferon may play a role by decreasing virus production. Many of the symptoms of uncomplicated influenza (muscle aches, fatigue, fever) are associated with the efficient induction of interferon. The cell-mediated immune response is important in viral clearance. The antibody response is usually not significant until after virus has been cleared. Repair of the respiratory epithelium begins rapidly, but may take some time to complete.
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