Flu Virus: To Have It, and Not Even Know?

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New studies estimate a surprising number of people carrying the flu virus may be unaware they are actually infected. Reports suggest only 23 percent of flu cases show flu-like symptoms in individuals with the virus. That means over 75 percent of people with the flu may not even know they have it.

Beginning in 2006 at University College London, a study led by epidemiologists  followed over 5,000 people across England, for nearly six years’ worth of flu seasons. Each season, researchers would draw blood from individuals before and after the season. Participants involved in the study were contacted weekly by researchers checking up with them and their family members concerning their health, and any flu or cold-like symptoms.

Oftentimes influenza can be mistaken for a simple cold when symptoms appear to be lighter or more common, such as only a cough or sore throat, as opposed to the classic fever, chills and all around body ache many people normally associate with the flu. For this reason, anyone who reported symptoms, great or small, those people were required to submit nasal swabs for further testing.

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Testing for the flu

The results showed around 20 percent of unvaccinated participants tested positive for the virus, with the majority of them showing no signs at all. Less than 18 percent of those who tested positive felt they needed to seek medical treatment from a doctor. The study also included the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, aka the swine flu.

According to the study, earlier reports of the 2009 H1N1 strain suggested that the symptoms were far more severe than the seasonal flu, however recent information shows, over all they may actually be milder. Researchers involved in the study also noted that their recent findings should in no way diminish the seriousness of either type A, or type B influenza.

The study’s lead author, Andrew Hayward and his team published these findings in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. He also suggested that the way in which studies often collect statistics, usually based on hospital visits and flu-related deaths may not reflect the greater epidemic of individuals who are infected and quite possibly contagious and do not even know it. Hayward also acknowledges that more research not only needs to be done on the newer strains, but also a continued effort to better understand the severity of the seasonal influenza.

Clearly American scientists are leading their own exhaustive research concerning this year’s bout with the flu in the US and neighboring countries. Many states have recorded an alarming increase in flu related deaths in 2014, especially among younger to middle-aged adults. California alone has seen over 330 flu related deaths this year. In Arizona, where the flu remains elevated, the Department of Health has had 8,737 confirmed flu cases this season, reported in 15 counties, with nearly 500 between March 2 and March 8, just a six-day period. However AZ State officials have stated that the cases mentioned in these latest figures only represent a small fraction of the true number of cases in the state, this flu season.

Although the flu appears to be dying out in many areas, doctors are still greatly emphasizing the need for people to do whatever they can to keep from spreading the virus. Regular hand washing is one way health professionals agree significantly reduces the risk of people getting sick.

By Aaron Thompson

Sources:

NPR

CBS AZ

The Business Journals 

CDC

 

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