January 18, 2000

A Flu Season to Remember?

Thinking Locally...

You don't have to read a newspaper or watch the nightly news to know that the flu season has arrived in full force. You may only have to take your temperature.

With daily reports of flu outbreaks around the world, high profile coverage by the media, and commercials hawking new remedies, the present flu season is hard to miss. What impact is the flu having on your community?

What kind of evidence have you seen that the flu season is affecting your community?

  • How many flu-related cases have been treated at your local hospitals?
  • How many flu-related deaths have occurred in your community?
  • What is the daily absentee rate at your school so far this month compared to December? to November?
  • What actions have officials at your school or in your community been taking to deal with flu outbreaks?

Med professional

...and Globally

You're not alone. In any year, the flu poses a significant health risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, this illness leads to 20,000 deaths and 110,000 hospitalizations annually in the U.S. And while it's still early in the present flu season, the number of flu reports is growing rapidly and drawing plenty of attention:

Flu Facts

Schools with students aged 9-15 are considered primary locations for the spread of the virus, and families with children in that age group show an increased incidence of flu.

The "Spanish flu" in 1918-19 was responsible for almost 500,000 deaths in the United States and 20 million worldwide.

More recently, the "Asian flu" of 1958-59 caused 70,000 deaths in the U.S.

35 states have already experienced widespread cases of the flu.

Outbreaks in major cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia have swamped hospital emergency rooms.
In Colorado, health officials recently confirmed 683 flu cases compared to only 5 at this time last year.
England's chief medical officer has declared that cases in his country are reaching "epidemic proportions." The Netherlands, meanwhile, has seen its case load rise by 10 times the average.

Follow day-to-day coverage of at health issues related to the flu at drkoop.com. Get an overview of the flu and its treatments from the Centers for Disease Control.

So how does the flu behave and what can you do about it?

The Anatomy of the Flu

Flu, short for the influenza virus, takes two primary forms--Influenza A and B--both of which mutate easily and often. If you had the flu a few years ago--and developed the antibodies to prevent that particular infection again--you're likely out of luck today because the virus has altered itself. This year's primary strain is called the Sydney flu, named for the Australian city where some of the first cases appeared.

Respiratory system

Understanding how the respiratory system functions can give you a clearer picture of respiratory illness, including the flu.

The following SimLibrary activities introduce this complex system and some of the diseases that can affect it.

For more advanced students:

Treatments, Old and New

Vitamin CHow do you prevent and treat the flu, aside from the age-old regimen of rest and chicken soup? Since you're dealing with a virus, your best hope is in vaccinating yourself against it, building up your immune system to fight it, and possibly using new medications to lessen its effects.

Treatment How It Works Research Findings
Flu Shot Every year researchers try to keep up with the flu virus by developing a vaccine based on the flu strains currently circulating. The CDC says the vaccine can prevent illness in 70-90% of healthy people under age 65. The effectiveness is somewhat lower for older people, whose immune systems may not be as strong.
Vitamin C Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has long been known to increase the anti-viral substance interferon and to create strong immune systems. There is still considerable debate as to the amount of Vitamin C necessary to achieve these effects.
Zinc This mineral boosts the immune system and has gained popularity in the form of lozenges. Recent studies at Dartmouth College and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that zinc cut in half the length of flu and colds.
New Anti-Viral Drugs Launched just months ago with a great deal of advertising fanfare, the prescription drugs Relenza and Tamiflu promise to shorten the flu and lighten its effects. Research sponsored by the drug companies found that flu patients experienced shorter and milder episodes, but needed to start taking the drugs within 48 hours of contracting the illness.

Find out more about natural flu remedies and the new generation of anti-viral drugs.

And get some rest, and drink plenty of fluids!

Related Resources

Read an extraordinary account of one of the most significant public health tragedies of this century in the new book The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It.

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