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Influenza: the thug of all bugs

Widespread flu outbreak creates concern in the United States

Illustration provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The flu is now widespread throughout the U.S. as the CDC map shows.

When little things like homework, student debt, a car loan, a half-crazy employer and rent hang over your head, worrying about the flu may seem silly. It shouldn’t. Not so long ago, one-eighth of the U.S. population died from a single flu virus.

Some may believe these kind of flu epidemics are a thing of the past, but they are actually common occurrences. “The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year, and right now all of CDC’s influenza surveillance systems are showing elevated activity,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many strains of the influenza virus exist, and every strain of influenza possesses its own mutation traits.  These mutation traits make it possible for the virus to overcome vaccines. Because of these mutations, most physicians suggest that the public stays up-to-date on current flu vaccinations every year.

The most common flu virus affecting humans this flu season is the H3N2 strain. This year’s flu vaccine has not been completely effective in protecting people against this particular strain, unfortunately.

However, “while some of the viruses spreading this season are different than those in the vaccine, vaccination can still provide protection and might reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death,” the CDC states.

This year’s vaccine, like many others, contains a healthy dose of antigens. Although these antigens help the body develop a strong immunity against being infected with the influenza virus, there are ways to prevent infection without being pricked.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions or actions taken to prevent the spread of the flu without the use of a vaccine are a good way to keep ourselves and our community healthy.

Staying home when ill, covering one’s mouth or using a disposable paper face mask while sneezing or coughing, cleaning surfaces often and also frequent hand washing should be practiced, according to physicians.  

People can take these preventative steps personally or encourage their community to do so while flu season is at its peak.  These steps may include postponing mass gatherings or making sick leave policies more flexible.

In 1918, the U.S. was in a panic state as Americans began dying from a strain of the virus called the Spanish flu. This influenza pandemic claimed an estimated 50 million lives in two years; in comparison, World War I claimed 16 million lives over a span of five years, 

According to some sources, the Spanish flu affected about one fifth of the world’s population. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 675,000 Americans died from this flu.

This virus started as a mild illness in the late spring. However, the virus mutated in the fall with a more powerful effect on victims. It mutated again, returning in spring of 1919. The Health and Human Services Department attributed 20 million deaths globally to this virus.