The influenza virus causes the flu, which is the short name for influenza. The virus spreads easily from person to person, mainly when an infected person coughs or sneezes. What's more, this virus is one of the most changeable of viruses. For this reason, a new flu vaccine must be produced each year to combat that year's prevalent virus strains.
Each winter, millions of people suffer from the flu, which is a highly contagious infection. The influenza virus spreads easily from person to person, mainly when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The influenza virus causes the flu (which is the short name for influenza).
(Click Flu to read more about the flu.)
The influenza virus is round, but it can also be elongated or irregularly shaped. Inside the influenza virus are eight segments of single-strand RNA (ribonucleic acid) containing the genetic instructions for making new copies of the virus. The most striking feature of the influenza virus is a layer of spikes projecting from its surface. There are two different types of spikes: one is the protein hemagglutinin (HA), which allows the virus to "stick" to a cell and initiate infection, the other is a protein called neuraminidase (NA), which enables newly formed viruses to exit the host cell.
Influenza viruses are classified as type A, B, or C based upon their protein composition. Type A viruses are found in many kinds of animals, including:
Type B widely circulates in humans. Type C has been found in humans, pigs, and dogs, and causes mild respiratory infections, but does not spark epidemics.
Type A influenza is the most frightening of the three, and it is believed to be responsible for the global outbreaks of 1918, 1957, and 1968. Type A influenza viruses are subdivided into groups based on two surface proteins, HA and NA. Scientists have characterized 16 HA subtypes and 9 NA subtypes of the influenza virus.