Dropping mercury levels bring darker days, chilly winds – and runny noses. The annual influenza (flu) season is here and is expected to infect an estimated five to 20 percent of the U.S. population. It may seem relatively harmless but the flu is extremely contagious, and reports suggest more than 36,000 people die from this respiratory illness each year.
Precautions taken in Seattle, Wash., during the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1918 would not permit anyone to ride on the streetcar without wearing a mask. The Red Cross made 260,000 masks.
The Cold Facts
Each year, over 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized as a result of influenza.
A severe pandemic could result in 90 million people getting sick and would kill about 2.25 million people in the U.S.
The 1918 flu pandemic claimed 675,000 lives in the U.S.
The world witnessed three pandemic outbreaks in the twentieth century alone.
The best way to beat the flu this season is to get a flu vaccination, say health experts. This year, National Influenza Prevention Week is November 26 to December 2 and is a good time to get your family, especially children, vaccinated. Ask your family’s health care provider for the flu vaccination or find a flu clinic in your area.
Getting your annual flu vaccination is the strongest defense against seasonal flu. Simple habits like washing your hands regularly, properly covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and staying at home from work and school when you are sick can reduce the spread of germs. In the event of a flu pandemic, these good hygiene habits can also help reduce the spread of pandemic flu.
Pandemic Flu Outbreak: A real threat
A pandemic flu occurs when a new virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population. It begins to cause serious illness, and then spreads rapidly – even across continents. Studies suggest a severe outbreak would make at least 30 percent of the U.S. population sick and incapacitate at least 30 to 40 percent of the national workforce.
Health experts caution that a flu pandemic is almost inevitable. Of most concern, perhaps, is the possibility that the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian “bird” flu could mutate into the virus that causes the next pandemic flu outbreak.
Common symptoms of pandemic flu are similar to the seasonal flu and include fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, extreme tiredness and headaches. Unlike seasonal flu, there may not be a vaccine for pandemic flu until researchers and pharmaceutical companies are able to create one.
“Now is a good time to educate and prepare your family for a potential pandemic flu,” says Darlene Sparks Washington, director of preparedness at the American Red Cross. “Being adequately prepared can significantly affect how you manage your illness, stress and anxiety during a flu pandemic.”
Prevent the flu
The best way to protect yourself and others is to practice healthy hygiene to help keep you well from seasonal flu now and during a flu pandemic. Getting prepared ahead of time will have a significant impact on your plans and decisions during a flu pandemic. Contact your local Red Cross chapter for a pandemic flu family preparedness guide. You can find additional information on planning and preparing for pandemic flu at www.redcross.org and www.pandemicflu.gov.
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.