It’s about that time again when colder, wetter weather sets in.  People spend more time indoors, which increases the risk of catching the flu.  Most folks think of the flu as a cold, but in fact flu refers to influenza, just one of many viruses which can cause the sniffles.  The difference with influenza is that besides affecting anywhere from 5 to 20% of the entire US population, it kills about 24,000 Americans yearly.  The very young, very old and those with chronic, serious conditions such as asthma, cancer, HIV are at higher risk of succumbing to this disease.

Symptoms are usually high fever, body aches, sore throat, weakness and sometimes vomiting. Flu  can spread like wildfire.  Ever worked in a preschool, an environment very similar to a large Petri dish?: Four year olds, running, coughing, touching each other and everything around them.  What about sitting on a nice 12 hour transatlantic flight where your neighbor is hacking away?  What about at the movie theater when the family of four behind you is coughing so often that you can only hear snippets of dialogue?

Yes, the possibilities of acquiring this nasty bug are just about infinite.  To make matters worse, the virus responsible for your misery has evolved over billions of years.  It changes its shape yearly, thus making your antibodies useless against such a changing target.  Every now and then it becomes a superbug, capable of wiping out a significant portion of the population.  And of course at times influenza can even be transmitted from different species such as birds.

Now that international travel is so commonplace, what happens in Shangai can, within a short time, infect populations in Los Angeles.

You would think that with over 20,000 dying yearly, everyone would want to get vaccinated.  Just imagine if a jumbo airliner were to crash every 6 days, there would be some major changes in airline safety. Yet, millions  do not get vaccinated-some out of sheer laziness; others out of an irrational fear of the vaccines and still others because we’re too busy surfing the web or watching the Niners lose once again (oh for the glory days!)

Next week I will outline some ways to help prevent getting this crud and if you are so unlucky as to be infected, what to do about it.