Sharing is Nice, But...
Not when someone has the flu. With winter here, it’s time to develop some strategies for flu season, which medical experts predict will be as difficult as usual, claiming the lives of half a million inhabitants around the globe. You don’t want to be one of them!
Scientists from Germany and the United Kingdom, or UK, have reportedly upgraded their methods of predicting which strains of flu are likely to predominate, thus outlining for researchers which strains must be included in the flu vaccine. Even so, researchers agree that this newest development by Cologne University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics in Germany is, “some distance from direct applications.”
The news is interesting but a little puzzling. Reading the announcement, from Science Direct, I had to ask myself what in heck physics has to do with flu? The answer is, a lot, particularly when scientists use a DNA analysis of thousands of branches of influenza dating from as far back as 1968 to predict which strains might crop up this winter.
The key, however, is the word “thousands.” In fact, there are so many adjuncts of flu, even the pandemic of 1918 – also known as the Spanish flu – that the odds of getting a vaccine targeted to the exact strains of a single season is like expecting a single bullet to stop a herd of wild horses.
That 1918 flu attacked about 40 percent of the world’s population, which earned it the name “pandemic.” It killed about 50 million people out of a global population of 1.8 billion, or 3.6 percent. Six hundred seventy five thousand (675,000) of them lived in the United States alone. Unlike most of the common strains of influenza, which target the young and the old – the two groups with developing or failing immune systems – the Spanish flu went after those between 20 and 50 – the workers and builders (and armed forces). It may not be coincidence that it emerged at almost the same time as the U.S. entered World War I (April 6, 1917).
Because of increased affluence among this 20-50 demographic, and an increase in entertainment venues like skating rinks, movies, dance halls, pool halls, amusement parks and taverns, the flu spread rapidly. Some people caught it in the morning and died by nightfall.
Finally, as yearly concerns about similar “super-flu’s” emerge, threatening our health and our peace of mind, scientists assure us that we will survive the ones which have already come and gone – and are coming around again. Meanwhile, the Cologne University research will help them pinpoint unusually lethal strains of flu and develop a vaccine before an onslaught like 1918 has a chance to build up steam.
What can you do? You can take vitamins, drink lots of water, get enough rest, use handkerchiefs or Kleenex, ask people to cover their coughs and sneezes, even wear a disposable face mask in public. It might make you look a little nutty. On the other hand, your sensible approach might inspire others
You can also wash your hands often, carry a hand sanitizer, and avoid touching other people’s dishes, cups and silverware. You can carry (and use) sanitary wipes to grab onto a stair rail, the moveable rail alongside an escalator, the buttons in an elevator, and your edge of a conference table, etc. And think in those same terms about a computer keyboard or other electronics, especially if you are sharing electronics with a cubby-mate.
The flu shot is targeted for anyone over six months, or anyone whose immune system is compromised; i.e., those suffering from asthma, diabetes, and heart and lung disease. This rule also applies to young children, pregnant women, and people over 65. Lastly, the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, recommends you ask your doctor if you or any member of your family should take antivirals to reduce the danger of extreme illnesses like pneumonia.