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The Flu Bug Bites Back

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the social scene, the bad news hits. That shot in your arm wasn't such a shot in the arm. In recent years, the doctors who designed the vaccine had to make a decision as to which strain to fight, Panama flu or Fujian flu. From their data, it looked like Panama would continue to grow strong and the beginnings of the Fujian strain would peter out.

They bet wrong. Fujian flu, a variant of the Panama variety, is just different enough so that the current vaccine doesn't offer complete protection. Fujian made a strong showing during Australia's flu season in June of 2003, but that wasn't soon enough for scientists to incorporate it into their shot. It takes months to grow enough vaccine, and the decision had to be made back in February. The good news: as science continues to advance, the odds on picking the better vaccine in a timely fashion increases.

It's been in the news lately that we are short of vaccine. That's true for the injection, but there is an alternative. The inhaled flu vaccine may be available where serum supplies have run out. The cost is higher ($50 as opposed to $20 for the shot), but some health departments are considering lowering the price to match the shot so more people will use it. Check with your health care provider or health department for its availability and cost in your area.

This Fujian flu is nasty stuff. Like many flu strains, it can occasionally be deadly, with children, pregnant women, and the elderly being more likely to suffer its worst effects. According to the U.S. government's Center for Disease Control (CDC), flu symptoms may include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are much more common among children than adults. The flu is highly contagious. It may be passed to others a day before symptoms manifest and up to a week afterwards. If the flu hits your household, a trip to the doctor's may be in order.

Doctor with cough medicineSay you've dodged the flu so far; here's to hoping the trend continues. Below are tips for staying well from the CDC:

Avoid close contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

Stay home when you are sick
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

Cover your mouth and nose
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

Clean your hands
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

Read on for more facts on today's flu and flu history.

In the Library

America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby.
Between August 1918 and March 1919 the Spanish influenza spread worldwide claiming over 25 million lives, more people than perished in the fighting of the First World War. It proved fatal to at least a half-million Americans. Yet, the Spanish flu pandemic is largely forgotten today. In this vivid narrative, Alfred W. Crosby recounts the course of the pandemic during the panic-striken months of 1918 and 1919, measures its impact on American society, and probes the curious loss of national memory of this cataclysmic event.

The Common Cold Cure: Natural Remedies for Colds & Flu by Ray Sahelian and Victoria Dolby Toews.
Two natural health experts provide an all-natural Rx for the common cold and flu: a regimen of vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, and other supplements.

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata
Describes the great flu epidemic of 1918, an outbreak that killed millions of people worldwide, and discusses the efforts of scientists and public health officials to understand and prevent another lethal pandemic.

Influenza by Donald Emmeluth
Experts in the field of microbiology tell the great "detective stories" of how some of the world's best-known deadly disease-causing microbes were first isolated, identified, and studied. Readers learn how these deadly viruses and bacteria cause disease and what steps have been taken to eradicate them. The Centers for Disease Control reports that millions of people in the United States contract influenza (the flu) each year. Learn more about this common, contagious virus that is dangerously spread through the air.

Jane Brody's Cold and Flu Fighter by Jane E. Brody
The personal health columnist of The New York Times and best-selling author offers everything there is to know about preventing and coping with colds and flu, including the author's own chicken soup recipe.

The Official Patient's Sourcebook on Flu Infection edited by James N. Parker and Philip M. Parker.
An e-book available online to CRRL patrons.

Outbreak: Disease Detectives at Work by Mark P. Friedlander, Jr.
Describes the field of epidemiology and its history, presenting historical and modern case studies and biological explanations of some diseases and a discussion of the microbes most likely to be used by bioterrorists.

The Return of the Spanish Lady by Val Davis
In this fictional work, Nicolette Scott, an archaeologist and old plane expert, is asked to join a search for a Japanese plane downed in Alaska during WWII. The mission is being funded by a pharmaceutical company "in the interest of history." However, a much darker motive powers their search. On the Web

Cold and Flu Defense: Symptoms and Remedies
http://www.healthline.com/channel/flu.html
Healthline's site offers a useful overview: symptoms, causes, tests, treatments, drugs, supplements, alternative therapies, risk factors, possible complications, and prevention.

Flu Activity
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivity.htm
Weekly surveillance reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with maps. Find out when and where influenza is circulating, what types of influenza viruses are out there, and the impact influenza is having on deaths in the United States. Includes links to international flu surveillance.

The Flu (For Kids)
http://kidshealth.org/kid/ill_injure/sick/flu.html
Written for children, this site explains what causes the flu (virus: say vy-rus!), how to prevent it (wash your hands!), and what to do if you get it (do NOT take aspirin!).

Influenza: 1918
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/influenza/
The PBS American Experience film transcript, with articles on whether another pandemic could occur and on people featured in the film, a month-by-month account of how the flu spread, and maps

Influenza (Flu): Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/
Constantly updated information from the CDC includes: Flu Q & A, Flu Facts vs. Myths, Who Should Get the Vaccine, Preventing the Flu, Nasal-Spray Flu Vaccine Q & A, flu news bulletins, and most importantly, What to Do If You Get Sick.

Are You Protected? Influenza Vaccination Information for Consumers
http://www.nfid.org/influenza/consumers_protected.html
From the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, here's a fact sheet on who should consider vaccination.

SeniorNavigator.com: Virginia's Resource for Health and Aging
http://www.seniornavigator.com/
Input your topic (flu) and zipcode in the Virginia Health Search box to find locations and contact information in your neighborhood for flu shots. Also includes articles on the prevention and management of influenza and its complications.

Virginia Department of Health
http://www.vdh.state.va.us/
For the latest on influenza in the Commonwealth, try this site from the Department of Health. Includes the Virginia Epidemiology Bulletin.