KERRY HUBARTT: It’s imperative we take action to avoid getting, spreading flu

Kerry Hubartt

It was 100 years ago this month, 1918, when the deadly, worldwide flu pandemic began, infecting 500 million people and killing an estimated 50-100 million by the end of the outbreak in 1919.

More than 25 percent of the population of the United States became afflicted, and up to 675,000 Americans died.

It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history with more fatalities than World War I and possibly more deaths in one year than the bubonic plague (Black Death) had between 1347 and 1351.

Most influenza deaths occur among the elderly or patients already weakened by something else. But in 1918 most fatalities were among healthy young adults. Another heavily contributing factor was the fact that there were no vaccines or drugs at that time to prevent its spread.

The influenza virus that has spread across the country today is said to be the most widespread outbreak since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began keeping records more than a dozen years ago. And it is proving to be one of the most dangerous, again affecting not only the elderly and infirmed but the young and healthy as well.

News reports have publicized the deaths of some seemingly healthy people such as a 21-year-old fitness buff in Latrobe, Pa., and a 10-year-old hockey player in New Canaan, Conn.

The CDC reports that as of Jan. 7, about 78 percent of all cases of influenza in the U.S. have been H3N2, the most dangerous. The strain in 1918 was H1N1, which is still one of the most common.

There is some controversy throughout the country as to whether flu shots are safe and effective. According to The New York Times, experts say they are, “because even when the shot does not prevent you from catching the flu, it may save you from dying of it. And while getting it in October is best, because it takes about two weeks to build immunity, it is still not too late, because the virus persists all winter and into spring.”

The CDC recommends flu vaccines, but only the injectable kind. The H3N2 strain is a component of every season’s flu shot, the Times reports, “so partial immunity is widespread.”

But even if you don’t get a flu shot, it is imperative that if you have the symptoms of flu you get treatment.

Here are the symptoms the CDC lists are indications you may have influenza:

• Fever or feeling feverish/chills (although not everyone with the flu will have fever)

• Cough

• Sore throat

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Muscle or body aches

• Headaches

• Fatigue (tiredness)

• Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan has asked local healthcare facilities to impose restrictions to help protect patients, visitors and staff from the flu virus, such as asking anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms to wear a mask and limiting patients’ visitors to two who are ages 18 and older.

McMahan says it’s better to send a card during this time of increased flu activity than to visit those who are ill. “And,” she adds, “if you are sick with a fever – stay home – please don’t go to work!”

Kerry Hubartt is the former editor of The News-Sentinel.