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Take steps to prevent influenza
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A year ago, the big news around the world was the H1N1, or "Swine" flu. It is interesting that what was once continuous news is now almost totally below the media's "radar." This flu hit the populations of developing nations very hard. And because it was spreading throughout the world rapidly and leaving a trail of deaths in its wake, the threat was taken very seriously.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, about 250,000 to 500,000 people around the world die each year from the various types of flu viruses. Nevertheless, even with numbers like that, these "typical" years are not called "pandemics," as was the case with the H1N1 flu. This is because the H1N1 flu was considered to be new in its genetic make-up, it had demonstrated itself to be easily transmittable among humans and no vaccine had yet been developed for it. Moreover, this particular flu seemed to be killing not only people with weakened immune systems, but the young and healthy as well.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was responsible for making the pandemic declaration, and by labeling the H1N1 flu a "pandemic," it generated a world-wide response from the medical community, emergency planners and political leaders. It became a matter of top priority to teach people how to avoid transmitting the virus and for the medical community to develop a vaccination with great urgency. There was great pressure, and apparently with good reason, to move quickly to stop this flu.

It is estimated that between 43 and 89 million people in the United States contracted the H1N1 flu during the 2009-2010 season. Obviously, such a wide-ranging estimate is not exact, and like the number of people who became ill, the number of deaths attributable to the H1N1 flu is similarly inexact: the United States mortality statistic for the last season ranges from the hundreds to the tens of thousands. Regardless of the exact statistics, many people are wondering if the world-wide coordinated prevention efforts and high-level publicity about the H1N1 flu threat was warranted.

It is, of course, difficult to prove that millions of casualties were in fact prevented, but it was certainly better to be "safe than sorry." The medical scientists knew that the H1N1 flu posed a potentially devastating risk to the human population, and, so it appears, the public education, prevention efforts and vaccination programs must have paid off.

We are now approaching the flu season once again. Interestingly, the H1N1 virus has not been eradicated as it is still around and able to infect more victims. It is considered to be under "control" however, so the WHO has declared the world to be in a "post-pandemic" stage. The vaccination developed apparently was effective, despite the short amount of time medical scientists had to develop it. And unlike when this particular flu threat first surfaced, there is now an ample supply of the vaccine.

Generally speaking, the upcoming flu season in the United States starts taking form in early October and sometimes sooner. This is when the Center for Disease Control begins to provide information about the kinds of flu strains that will affect our population in the months to come. The H1N1 virus has already been circulating among the population, but it appears to be mixed in with other strains that have been around for a while. The vaccine for the 2010-2011 flu season is already widely available. It consists of several different components to deal with the flu strains that are most likely to be prevalent in the human population.

I have said much about vaccinations, but I am not implying or making any medical recommendations about their use or effectiveness. Some people oppose the use of any kind of vaccination, and they have their reasons. It is an important decision, making it incumbent on everyone, parents especially, to know the pros and cons of receiving them. It is important to consult with your primary health care provider when making these decisions.

Taking steps to prevent the spread of viruses is the common sense approach to staying healthy during the flu season. It helps to know the nature of flu-causing viruses; for example, how these organisms thrive, how they are transmitted and what it takes to kill them. With this knowledge, it becomes apparent that it is important to frequently wash hands, to keep hands away from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, to cover one's mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, to get plenty of rest, to stay well-nourished and to reduce stress that can impair the immune-system. The people most vulnerable to the flu are the elderly, those who are obese, pregnant women and people whose immune systems are compromised owing to illness or other factors.

The flu season is still a few weeks away and there are no indications to suggest that current virus strains pose the same threats when H1N1 surfaced in our population last year. But it is important to do what you can to stay healthy and to start forming proper prevention habits now to keep from getting sick when the flu season is upon us.