Influenza is a viral infection which attacks the respiratory system.

Authors Avatar by icheatboy (student)

Influenza in the UKBiology AS Issue Report

Influenza in the UK

The Influenza problem

According to the UK department of health, “In the UK, about 600 people a year die from seasonal flu. This rises to around 13,000 during an epidemic.” (1) This is a problem that biologists have been and will continue to try and solve, keeping this number as low as possible will save lives.

Influenza is a viral infection which attacks the respiratory system. For healthy people it means a week or two off work with the sudden onset of a fever, headache, cough, sore throat and muscle aches. After about a week these will disappear but you will be left extreme fatigues for a few weeks after you catch the infection. (2) If you are fit and healthy this shouldn’t cause much of a problem. However the problems occur if you have a weakened immune system. This means you are less likely to be able to fight against the virus so you are more vulnerable to catching the virus and its complications, the most likely of which is a bacterial chest infection. This can result in serious illness such as pneumonia which can result in death. (3)

The solution

Currently in the UK a vaccination against influenza is given free of charge to everyone who is in a high risk group. The National Health Service (4) says that this includes all those who are; aged 65 and over, pregnant, suffering with a serious medical condition, living in a residential home or are healthcare workers or carers for the sick or elderly.  

Every year the World Health Organisation predicts the three strains of influenza virus that will affect people most and recommends that these are put in vaccines for that influenza season. For example The World Health Organisation (5) states that the vaccination last given out in the UK for the 2010-2011 season contained the; N1H1 strain (Swine flu), H3N2 strain and B strain.

As explained in BBC Focus magazine (6) the vaccination works by containing a small amount of the influenza virus, shown in figure 1, containing the different strains recommended for that year. It is not enough for the body to feel the symptoms of the virus however your body will still respond to the small amount of virus. It produces antibodies, molecules which remember the shape of a protein on the surface of the virus, the hemagglutinin (HA) head. ‘Memory cells’ then remember this shape and if it enters the body again, the antibodies will recognise it and attach themselves to the HA head to kill the virus. This is illustrated in figure 2. As the HA head is a different shape for each strain of influenza and there are different strains circulating all the time, a new vaccine must be made and given to everyone each year so that antibodies suitable for the new strains can be made.

Why is this solution appropriate?

The National Health Service says that “No vaccine is 100% effective; however, people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. If you do get flu despite having the jab, it will probably be milder than if you haven’t been vaccinated.” (7) With the people most at risk from contracting influenza immunised against it, there are significantly fewer cases of the illness. Also the people are vaccinated against it are the people who are most likely to suffer badly from the virus and its complications which can be fatal so the number of deaths related to influenza are also decreased. Even though not all the population is vaccinated against it, it is still less likely for the people in low risk groups to contract the influenza virus because with the high risk population immunised there are fewer people to catch it form as the low risk group are more able to fight the virus quicker and avoid its complications this is a more cost-effective method that vaccinating the entire population.  

Join now!

The UK Health Protection Agency releases a weekly influenza media update; the following statistics are from the statement dated 10 February 2011 (8). 439 people in the UK had died in this winter flu season since October because of the influenza virus. The ages of people for 393 deaths were available have been presented in figure 3. The histogram shows that vaccine is effective for the population in high risk age groups as the number of deaths per the size of each age group is higher in 15 to 64 than the other groups. The majority of this population is ...

This is a preview of the whole essay