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What is Influenza (also called Flu)?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each fall.

Every year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • about 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Symptoms of Flu

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults


Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.


Why the World Is Terrified of Avian Flu

The Avian Influenza: What is It?

The avian flu virus is feared because of two main reasons. First, because it is currently incurable, and second, because it is possible that it can mutate into a form that spreads too quickly for the world community to control. While it is not yet a real threat at the moment, it can quickly degenerate into a deadly one, one that can have far-reaching effects into the world at large.

The avian influenza virus, also known as the bird flu, is often carried by wild birds. The virus does not kill its wild carriers - their bodies seem to have to have adapted and are immune to the effects of the virus. But it is deadly to domesticated birds such as chicken, turkeys, and the like. This is where the problem begins, at least from the point of view of human beings.

The bird flu virus is primarily passed on through the secretion of the animals involved. This includes the saliva, the mucus, and the feces of the birds. The first indications of the avian flu's incredible effects were put on display when domesticated chickens contracted the virus and died. Health concerns forced governments to crack down on the virus, resulting in losses of millions of livestock on the part of farmers.

For the most part, humans in general are still not in danger of the bird flu. Its present incarnation is quite difficult to transmit from person to person. Most cases of bird flu have come from people who have come indirect contact with infected bird secretions, as would be present in freshly-laid eggs.

Why The World Is Afraid

The world is currently not afraid of the bird flu, as it poses very little danger to us at the moment. The real concern is not what the bird flu is; it is what it could become. Many scientists believe that the bird flu can someday mutate into a form that can be transmitted through the air. When that happens, and if we still do not have a cure for the bird flu, the world will be in big trouble.

Current levels of world trade require that massive amounts of people move in and out of countries and continents. This is a byproduct of globalization. If a strand develops that can be transmitted from one human being to another, it could quickly spread over all continents and countries. This will most likely be an unmitigated disaster, especially in the Third World countries, where poverty and overpopulation will only serve to exacerbate the spread of the disease. In the absence of a cure, even the developed West will struggle, thought\ it will probably suffer lower mortality rates.

There is no way of knowing when this evolution of the bird flu will occur, but scientists around the world are racing to find a solution to the problem. Today, many products are being sold that claim to work against the bird flu, but until an outbreak occurs, there is no real way to gauge their effectiveness.

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Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, ACIP makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

1. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:

  • Children aged 6–59 months of age,
  • Pregnant women,
  • People 50 years of age and older,
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

2. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above)
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
  • Health care workers.

3. Anyone who wants to decrease their risk of influenza.


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