Do you hear people say, “Oh, it’s just the flu”? That makes flu sound harmless — but sometimes it isn’t.
Flu is short for “influenza.” It’s a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Flu is seasonal, but each flu season may bring a different variety of the flu. We can’t know ahead of time how serious each year’s varieties of flue might be.
Some famous flu seasons:
- The 1918 “Spanish flu” killed more people than the World War that preceded it — somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It killed healthy young people within hours of exposure, and there was no cure for it. The effects on European populations were much like the Bubonic Plague.
- Hong Kong flu showed up in the late 1960s. Though the 1968-1969 flue season is considered a pandemic, it was milder than many other pandemics. Experts think this could have been first, because it hit during school vacation, so it did not spread as quickly, and second, because it responded to medications.
- H1N1, or “swine flu,” caused a pandemic in 2009. Swine flu usually turns up only in pigs, but occasionally there will be an outbreak of this type of flu in humans, as there was in 2009.
How can you avoid the flu? The best thing to do is to get a flu vaccination.
Other steps you can take:
- Wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your nose and mouth.
- Practice good health habits like managing stress, getting enough sleep, and eating right.
- Cover your nose and mouth if you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue and throw it away after you’re used it.
- Stay home if you’re ill and encourage others to do the same.
- If you think you might have the flu, see your doctor.