Flu Season is a Year-Round Affair
Posted by Anni on Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Fortunately, with the warm winter, it’s been a slow year for the flu. The flu is a terrifying beast. When I was in third grade my entire soccer team got it, except for me. I was out with a broken toe and even though the reason I didn’t get sick was obvious (I wasn’t exposed) I felt somehow superhuman, like I had a flu force-field. Then I learned about the Spanish Flu in school and my superpowers dissolved in terror. It was a cruel thing to teach such a young child. I became incredibly fearful of getting sick. The 1918 pandemic killed 50 million people! About 20%-40% of the world’s population got sick and 675,000 people died in the United States alone. What is perhaps most frightening about the pandemic is our lack of understanding. We still don’t know why it targeted healthy adults from 20-50 years of age. This is very unusual for the flu. Typically the very young and very old are most at risk.
The flu is something we all have in common. Year after year we are told to keep our feverish kids home from school, to wash our hands often, to get enough sleep, and to get a flu shot. The seasonal flu typically strikes in the colder months, when people are spending a lot of time indoors—the perfect conditions for a contagious infection to spread through a population. We think of the flu as a seasonal bug, but it’s around us all the time. It probably evolved alongside humans and other mammals.
The flu is so fascinating (and terrifying) because it doesn’t just affect humans. The infamous bird flu, for example, is a mutated strain that began in poultry. The swine flu started in pigs. When a pathogen is so flexible, so able to adapt to vastly different hosts, we are wise to be wary. The more contact humans have with livestock, the greater the risk that a particularly virulent strain will find its way into the human population. It’s only a matter of time before another pandemic hits. I think, when it comes to the flu, my anxiety is actually legitimate.
Hollywood loves to frighten us with apocalyptic pandemic movies. Sure, the premise is compelling: all but an intrepid few fall victim to the illness; the intrepid few try to band together to find a cure without getting sick; the virus mutates and our intrepid few start getting sick; drama ensues. It’s a formula that works, but should we be taking it so lightly? The risk of a pandemic is real and yet, what can the average person do to protect herself? I, for one, get a flu shot. It may not be much, but it helps me trick myself into feeling safe. And who knows, maybe those shots really are effective. So far this year I’ve been footloose and flu free. I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed for the future.
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