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It's More Than "Just The Flu"

In 1918, a serious flu epidemic killed 3% of the entire world's population.  While we don't expect this to happen again, approximately 20,000 Americans will die this year from flu-related illnesses. This may be compounded by the fact that shortages and delays are expected in the availability of flu vaccine supplies this year. Dr. Donnica discusses the difference between colds and flu, how to prevent the flu, who should get vaccinated, and how to treat yourself if you get it.

What is This Condition?

The "flu" is actually a highly contagious viral infection with influenza type A or type B virus. It infects the nose, throat, and lungs, but it affects the whole body.  There are many strains of influenza viruses and these strains evolve annually.  As a result, it is nearly impossible for the human body to develop its own effective immunity.

The flu causes an acute feverish illness of the respiratory tract.  Infections with influenza viruses occur every year, either as local outbreaks or as a widespread epidemic. In the United States, epidemics occur almost exclusively during the winter months (December through April).  In the Southern Hemisphere, however, they occur during the summer months (May through September). Attack rates during such outbreaks may affect 10% to 40% of the population over 5 to 6 weeks.

Influenza is spread by airborne droplets expelled during coughing or sneezing.  Mouth/nose to hand and then face contact is a very common means of transmission.  Low relative humidity and low temperature increase the survival of airborne virus.

There are 40--90 million cases of influenza reported in the U.S. each year. It is expected that there will be 110,000 Americans hospitalized with flu complications this coming year. As a result, during the "flu season", emergency room (ER) wait-time commonly exceeds four hours and other emergencies may have to be sent elsewhere.   While most of these hospitalizations affect the elderly, a new study suggests that young and middle-aged women--particularly those with certain chronic illnesses--can develop life-threatening flu complications.

Business productivity drastically drops due to flu sick time; total costs of this illness, including time lost from work, etc., exceeds $14 billion- all in the 4 month "influenza season".  It results in 69 million lost days from work and 39 million lost days from school for children.  Yet we commonly ignore the seriousness of this illness, brushing it off with a casual "oh, it's just the flu". 

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 There are 40--90 million cases of influenza reported in the U.S. each year. It is expected that there will be 110,000 Americans hospitalized with flu complications this year. 

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