The flu is in the news. Not because anyone really cares about people with body aches or fever. What makes this swine flu news-worthy is that it kills. Or better put, it leads to pneumonia which kills. But how, you ask?
The influenza virus, responsible for the flu, infects cells in your respiratory system. It enters these cells and uses the cells’ own mechanisms to produce copies of itself. When the cell is filled with influenza viruses, the virus triggers a chain of reactions that lead to that cell’s death. The cell bursts open and the viruses are released to infect other cells.
Progressively, your respiratory cells die and your lungs are filled with dead cells. This has two dangerous consequences. These cells were supposed to protect your body but they are no longer there, so bacteria can easily cross that barrier into the blood and tissue beneath. But more importantly, the dead cells are excellent food for microbes.
Bacteria thrive in the remnants of your cells and as more cells die of influenza, more food there is for bacteria. And the bacteria grow, attracting your aggressive white cells. These cells will swarm to your lungs, releasing deadly substances that clog the fine tubes that compose your respiratory system.
As more lung tissue is clogged, less air reaches the blood and people start feeling breathless. That is the terrible fate of untreated pneumonia – people die by drowning as less and less oxygen reaches the blood and cells all around the body die of energy shortage.
You can see why the seemingly insignificant flu worries so much health care professionals. Picture a scenario where you body has no clue how to fight the specific virus infecting it. How much destruction could that virus cause that would feed bacteria?
That scenario is precisely what is currently happening with the swine flu, H1N1, a strain of virus our bodies have not encountered in the last tenths of years. And if we are not careful, the pneumonia-causing pneucomcocci will strike.