Difference Between Influenza and Malaria
Influenza provokes an immune reaction, causing symptoms throughout the body. But the virus itself does not spread beyond the nose, throat, and lungs. One to four days after infection, fever, headache, chills, body aches, and a dry cough begin. The fever fades after a few days, but other symptoms may develop, including sore throat, stuffy nose, and fatigue. (Influenza is not “stomach flu”; it rarely causes upset stomach or diarrhea.) Severe cases of influenza can result in life-threatening complications. For example, the virus can weaken the immune system, allowing bacterial infections, including pneumonia, to occur.
Surface proteins on the virus enable it to infect cells, but the immune system recognizes these proteins and fights the infection. Influenza viruses are categorized based on the differences in their surface proteins. The three major types are A, B, and C. Type A usually causes the most severe form of the disease.
The virus continuously makes small changes in the surface proteins. These changes, called drift, lead to new strains of the virus, and these strains are less noticeable to the immune system. The type A virus sometimes makes a sudden large change, called a shift. This leads to a new subtype, which makes the virus all but unrecognizable, risking a pandemic (a worldwide epidemic). In 1918 and 1919, a shift caused the world’s worst pandemic, the Spanish Flu, which killed 20 to 40 million people.
Avoiding the Flu
Influenza spreads through the air or by touching the virus on a surface and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth. Cases of influenza are more common in winter because people tend to stay indoors and are more likely to breathe the same air as an infected person. Also, in the dry air, the virus lives longer on surfaces.
Frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with sick people are simple ways to avoid infection, but the best way is to be vaccinated. The virus is different every year, so the vaccine changes every year. The vaccine must be designed several months before flu season begins. During this time, the virus can change, making the vaccine less effective. If vaccine is scarce, the first to receive it should be those most at risk for complications: young children, people with asthma or other serious diseases, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems.
Medications are available, but the best treatment is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Antibiotics do not stop the virus but may be used to treat bacterial infections that are complications from the virus. Aspirin should not be given to children or teenagers with the flu, because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious disease.
Malaria is an ancient disease that is carried from person to person by the female mosquito. The mosquito transmits disease during a bite if it injects a parasite into a person’s blood. The parasite that most often causes the disease in people is called Plasmodium falciparum.
Only mosquitoes infected with the parasite spread disease. In some places, however, infected mosquitoes are common. In these places, a child has a chance of being bitten by an infected mosquito once a day.
After the parasite enters the blood, it passes through several stages of its life cycle, including stages that affect the liver and the red blood cells. At these stages, a person feels sick, with fevers and flu-like symptoms. Symptoms tend to be more severe in young children, pregnant mothers, and travelers who have been infected for the first time. If treatment of malaria is delayed, life-threatening complications can occur. They include brain involvement (coma and seizures), kidney failure, and severe anemia. About 1 million people, mostly children, die each year from malaria.
The use of existing tools to prevent and treat malaria can cut the disease’s impact by half. One way to prevent malaria is to target the mosquito: get rid of breeding sites, use insecticide-treated bednets, and spray insecticides on walls. The use of DDT, a controversial pesticide, has been reconsidered. Agricultural use harms the environment, but household use seems safer.
The same drugs that are used to treat the sick can also be used to prevent illness. However, using drugs for prevention over an entire continent is impractical. Instead, the drugs go to high-risk groups, such as pregnant women and travelers.
Newer, more effective drugs already exist, but they need to be used more widely. One new drug, artemisinin, is derived from a Chinese herb. Resistance to the drug has not been detected. However, artemisinin tends to be expensive.
Many organizations are trying to find ways to help pay for artemisinin and other new drugs. These organizations include private institutions, government agencies, and international organizations.