Catching the flu happens to quite a few people every year, especially during the height of the flu season during the months of January and February. It has been estimated that as few as 5% and as many as 20% of the population of the US comes down with some form of it every year. This equates to a range of about 158K up to 600K, most of whom get into bed at their homes as wait it out; a healing process that can take anywhere from three to seven days. Of that number the CDC estimates that close to 200K require hospitalization for flu-related complications, and of this number and depending on how severe a form it takes, anywhere from 3,000 to a high of 49,000 die. Serious figures like these make flu the 8th leading cause of death in the United States!
Now, those figures are for a ‘normal flu’ during a ‘normal’ year. But, what happens when a truly novel form of this disease occurs? That question is what keeps some researchers at institutions like the World Health Organization up late at night. The ongoing evolution of the Avian flu (aka type A(H5N1) currently circulating in Asia is a case in point. This nasty bug is limited at this time to rare bird to human transmission. But, when a human does catch it, it results in a 60% mortality rate! Adding even more concern is the fact that some versions known as ‘clades’ have developed a marked resistance to the current vaccines. As one WHO researcher put it, ‘this flu virus seems to be taking the same path as the 1918 flu that killed as many as 50 million in the 1918-19 A(H1N1) outbreak’. And perhaps that is why that the surveillance network has also been increased with rumors saying that the US recently added another seven billion to the effort. If that rumor is true, then some of the professionals must really be worried.
The people most at risk from catching and dying of the flu are those who have immune systems that at somehow compromised. That would include the very young, the elderly and anyone with systemic conditions that tax the body’s ability to fight off bugs. Indeed, most victims of the flu, don’t succumb to the virus itself but rather other problems and complications that can arise. Like pneumonia. These groups of people need to be extra careful during any outbreak where something like increased personal hygiene can make all the difference.