Influenza (flu) is an acute contagious viral infection characterized by inflammation of the respiratory tract that every winter affects more than 100 million people in Europe, Japan and the United States of America, also being responsible for several thousand of excess deaths (data from the United States reveal between 20,000 to 40,000 excess deaths annually). The Mixovirus influenzae is the agent that causes influenza, commonly called flu. There are 3 types of influenza virus: A, B, C, and only types A and B are perceived to be clinically relevant in humans. Due to the segmented nature of its genetic material, the influenza virus is highly mutagenic, causing frequent insertion of new antigenic strains into the community, against which the population presents no immunity. Presently, there are few options for the control of influenza and annual immunization is the most effective means to prevent disease and its complications. In Brazil, according to data collected by the VigiGripe's Project - linked to the Federal University of Sao Paulo -, circulation of the influenza virus also has a seasonal pattern, with peak activity occurring between May and September. Yearly vaccination is, therefore, best indicated on March and April. Currently, there are four medications available for the treatment of influenza viruses: amantadine and rimantadine, and two second generation pharmaceutical products, the neuraminidase inhibitors, oseltamivir and zanamivir. The latter two drugs have set the stage for a new approach to the management and control of influenza infections.

Influenza; Flu; Epidemiology; Vaccine; Treatment

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