Part one of a series on crisis medicine and the flu explores general information about influenza.
What is Influenza (flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people.
Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.
However, colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose and
In general, the flu is WORSE than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense.
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu.This includes older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease).
Which is another reason Dr Bones and I discussed in our first crisis medicine show:
PREVENTING PREGNANCY if the “what if happens”, a pregnant woman with a pandemic flu could be a death sentence to her, the baby and her entire family.
History and Facts About Influenza
In the United States, on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population; the virus causes serious illness and spreads easily from person-to-person worldwide.
Latest flu pandemics
Name of pandemic
1.5 to 2 million
As of June 25, 2010
over 18,209 
The Flu is unpredictable and HOW SEVERE an outbreak is can vary from one season to the next depending on many things, including
What flu viruses are spreading
how much flu vaccine is available
when the vaccine is available
how many people get vaccinated AND
how well the flu vaccine is matched to the flu viruses that are causing illness
Well just HOW is Influenza spread?:
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.
It is important to remember that Flu viruses can remain infectious on surfaces for about one week at human body temperature, over 30 days at 0 °C (32 °F), and indefinitely at very low temperatures (such as lakes in northeast Siberia)
So be careful what you touch!
*****What are the Types of Influenza viruses:
Some people get a “stomach flu” which involves nausea, vomiting, intestinal pain and cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea and being nauseous can sometimes be related to the FLU- more commonly in children than adults- THESE problems are rarely the main symptoms of INFLUENZA.
Remember… INFLUENZA is a RESPIRATORY disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.
There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B and C. Human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease almost every winter in the United States.
Influenza type C infections cause a mild respiratory illness and are not thought to cause epidemics.
There are some names you may have heard in the news like the BIRD or Swine flu and I’d like to explain these a little…
H5N1 (Bird) flu is an influenza A virus subtype that is highly contagious among birds.
RARE human infections with the H5N1 (Bird) flu virus have occurred. The majority of confirmed cases have occurred in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East. The present day concern is focused on the Bird Flu and its possible mutation when it enters a HUMAN BODY. This mutation of the virus could turn it into a killing machine.
Currently, the United States has no confirmed human H5N1 (Bird) flu infections, but H5N1 (Bird) flu remains a serious concern with the potential to cause a deadly pandemic.
H1N1 , often called the “SWINE FLU” flu is also an influenza virus causing illness in people.
It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, plus avian genes and human genes.
During 2009-2010 this new and very different swine flu virus spread worldwide and caused the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years.
It is estimated that the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic resulted in more than 12,000 flu related DEATHS in the UNITED STATES alone.
In contrast to the seasonal flu, nearly 90 % of the deaths occurred among people YOUNGER than 65 years of age!!
Yes it was the younger people in which the deaths occurred.
We always think of FLU DEATHS as an old person ailment, but we need to be careful no matter how old we are!
ON August 10, 2010 -The World Health Organization declared an end to the global H1N1 swine flu pandemic which had begun on April 26th 2009 as a PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY.
During week 45 of 2010, (November 7-13th), influenza activity remained LOW in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although we have gotten lucky lately , I think it is a REAL possibility that in our near future,
a mutation of any of the influenza viruses could become a serious pandemic killing millions and millions of people all across our world.
We have a transportation system that MOVES people around the world in a matter of hours!
Planes, trains and automobiles are faster then ever.
Unfortunately during the Period of contagiousness:
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else EVEN BEFORE you know you are sick.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop
and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.
So while you may FEEL HEALTHY you could be contaminating large numbers of people before you feel sick!!
Some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
So what can you do to PREVENT the FLU?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the CDC,
urges you to take the following actions to protect yourself and others from influenza (the flu):
- CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. There are two types of vaccines: the “flu shot” and the nasal spray flu vaccine.
The vaccinations are effective and provide protection against influenza viruses in about two weeks.
- While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common.
- •The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against an influenza A H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the 2009 H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.
- Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the 2010-2011 season vaccine is available. Which is usually starts in September and lasts through as late as May.
- People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.
- Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
- Vaccination also is important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high risk people to keep from spreading flu to high risk people.
- Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- If you are sick with flu–like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.*
- If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness.
- Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter.
- Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications.
- It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early (within the first 2 days of symptoms) to treat people who are very sick (such as those who are hospitalized) or people who are sick with flu symptoms and who are at increased risk of severe flu illness, such as pregnant women, young children, people 65 and older and people with certain chronic health conditions.
Here some other prevention methods, taking into consideration at all times that the flu usually spreads from person to person in respiratory droplets when people who are infected cough or sneeze. Or by touching a virus covered surface and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth.
Routinely clean frequently touched objects and surfaces,
including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones to help remove germs
Make sure your home AND workplace has an adequate supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs and disposable wipes.
Make sure your child’s school, child-care program or college routinely cleans frequently touched objects and that they have the same supplies available as your work and home.
Practice good health habits, such as getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, and managing stress.
Decrease or eliminate alcohol, tobacco and sugar intake, which all decrease the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Always eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of fluids and take immunity boosting vitamins and antioxidants, such as Vitamin c.
*****So WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS of the FLU and when will they appear?
The time it takes from when a person is exposed to flu virus to when symptoms begin is about one to 4 days, with an average if 2 days.
People who have influenza often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- fever* ( USUALLY HIGH) or feeling feverish/chills
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches, usually it feels like you can’t get out of bed to even walk a short distance
- fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
If you CAN consult a healthcare provider and are concerned about your illness, please do so asap, especially if you are at high risk for the complications of the flu. Those at high risk include, like I said earlier are
older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease). These issues are very important for discussing a time when help is NOT on the way!
This concludes part one of our series on the flu. Be sure to read part two as well.