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What Is The "Flu"?

Influenza, more commonly known as the “flu”, is an infectious disease that has a pattern of reemerging every winter in the United States. However, this disease is not limited to the boundaries of the U.S. Cases of Influenza have been reported on all seven continents. Influenza is obtained by a virus from the family Orthomyxoviridae. This disease has an incubation period of anywhere between one to four days. This means that it takes this long after the virus enters the body before the new host begins to experience symptoms. For this reason, it is possible to pass on the virus to someone else before you even know you have it.

How Can I Avoid Giving and Receiving The Virus?

Although the flu affects anybody, in any age group, it most commonly
spreads from person to person through the “droplet spread”. The virus can only survive in moist conditions. Therefore, a live virus can be transferred through the air with a cough or a sneeze. When this occurs, the infected person is sending virus infected droplets into the surroundings where they can attach to a new host. However, it can also be transmitted through direct contact. If an infected person coughs or sneezes into his or her hand, then shakes the hand of a healthy person, and that person later on touches his or her face, the virus can easily enter the body and multiply. For this reason, it is highly recommended that people take everyday steps to protect their heatlh. These everyday preventative steps include hand washing your hands and/or using hand sanitizers regularly, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

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Who Can Get The Virus?

Although everyone is susceptible to this highly contagious disease, it is easier for some to take on this world-wide disease than others. It is more common that young children get infected with influenza, yet, it is also very common for people ages 65 or greater, people with long-lasting heart and lung problems, pregnant women, people with kidney disease and diabetes, and anyone with a weakened immune system to attain the disease.

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What Are The Symptoms? Does It Have A High Mortality Rate?
Once in the body, the virus will attack the respiratory tract. The throat, bronchi, nose and sometimes the lungs are the organ systems that are often affected. With these systems not functioning properly, the infected will suffer from headaches, muscle aches, a fever, severe tiredness, chills, trouble breathing, coughing, sore throat, and a runny and/or stuffy nose. Symptoms will often last a week or more. Although most people can fully recover from influenza, this disease can cause complications such as pneumonia and ear infections; although most survive, there are many cases of influenza that result in death. This is more of a concern for people with preexisting conditions. With an already weak immune system, it is very difficult for the body to fight off and kill the invading viruses. Roughly 15-20% of American citizens get the flu over the course of one year. However, approximately 30,000-50,000 American citizens die from the flu in one year. This is equivalent to about 1% of the American population.

Is There More Than One Type Of Virus?

There are three different types of this reemerging, highly contagious, globally impacting disease. The three influenza viruses are named A, B, and C. Type A is the strongest and most harmful of the three. It has been held responsible for many of the major influenza outbreaks and epidemics over the years. It was first acknowledged by a scientist in 1930. Type B is not as harmful as type A, yet it has been the type to cause a few epidemics in the past. Type C is the mildest and least common of the three and it is very similar to the common cold.

What Are Some Recommended Steps To Deal and Prevent Influenza?
When you are diagnosed with having influenza, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives the advice to "Take Three." These three steps are to:

1. Take time to get a seasonal flu vaccine and the h1n1 vaccine if it is available and recommended to you by your doctor.
2. Take everyday preventive actions.
3. Take influenza antiviral medications if recommended by your doctor.

What Was The Worst Influenza Outbreak In History?

In history, the deadliest outbreak of the influenza virus occured in 1918. This pandemic was more fatal than WWI, killing somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. The influenza outbreak of 1918 is viewed as the most devastating epidemic in world history. Compared to the Bubonic Plague, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 lasted from 1918 to 1919, while the plague was from 1347 to 1351. external image 1918-flu-pandemic.jpgThis pandemic killed more people in one year than the plague did in four. This outbreak is also commonly referred to as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe.”

The flu hit in the fall of 1918, when World War I was coming to an end. The Americans had joined the Allies in the fight, and within the trenches of warfare men lived in most brutal conditions. However, the influenza of the season turned out to be much worse than anyone could have imagined. While the war between men ceased, the war between humankind and infectious disease raged; In the short time span of two years, a fifth of the world’s population was infected. The flu was most fatal to those of ages 20-40. This was unusual considering influenza generally affects the elderly and the young. During this pandemic 28% external image Influenza-Pandemic.jpgof all Americans were infected, and 675,000 died of the flu. This amounted to being ten times as many Americans dying of the virus, than died in warfare.

While the origin and cause of this influenza is unknown, there are many speculations as to what made it worse and how it traveled so rapidly. It spread by human carriers along trade routes and shipping lines. The outbreaks of the flu went through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil, and the South Pacific. Massive movements of men in armies and on ships, due to the war, aided the influenza in its infection across the globe.


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