Flu Shots - Next Big Influenza Outbreak

What happens in an influenza outbreak?

There is great concern about when the next big outbreak of influenza (the flu) will occur, adding significantly to the reasons to get a flu shot this year.

Influenza is an acute (abrupt) respiratory disease. It is highly contagious and is now very much a disease of global importance.

The word "influenza" is menacing to those who know of the great pandemics of this century. These pandemics have occurred for centuries, three times -- 1918, 1957 and 1968 -- in the 20th century alone. The infamous "Spanish flu" of 1918 was responsible for more than 20 million deaths, primarily among young adults.

A pandemic is an epidemic, a sudden outbreak, that becomes extremely widespread and affects a whole region, an entire continent, or the world.

Influenza viruses are unique

Influenza is an extraordinary infectious disease. It emerges and reemerges. Influenza causes an annual epidemic that is due to influenza viruses that reemerge, having mutated (changed) enough so they can reinfect people who had an earlier bout of flu. And pandemics of influenza can strike unpredictably because of the emergence of new types of influenza virus that are harbored in birds and other animals.

Influenza viruses are unique in their ability to cause sudden, pervasive illnesses in all age groups on a global scale. With the frequency of global travel the threat of a pandemic is all the more real and frightening.

Flu Season Starts in the Fall

Influenza is not a minor illness. It is a serious disease that is caused by a virus that spreads from infected persons to the nose or throats of others. Influenza can cause: fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headache and muscle aches.

Most people are ill with influenza for only a few days, but some get much sicker and may need hospitalization. Influenza causes thousands of deaths each year, mostly in the elderly.

The influenza season (otherwise known as the flu season) in the U.S. usually starts in November and runs to March or April each year.

How Does Influenza Get Global?

An outbreak of influenza can start in a remote part of China and quickly spread throughout Asia. Sick travelers from Asia may fly to Los Angeles, Chicago, Honolulu and New York potentially infecting anyone they come in contact with. Soon, new outbreaks of influenza will be identified in whatever city the travelers visit. In a short time the virus could be spread throughout the U.S and to Europe as more sick travelers fly throughout the world. It is this way that influenza reaches global and pandemic proportions. Typically, influenza spreads from the southern hemisphere because the appearance of influenza viral strains there precedes their appearance in the U.S. The U.S. bases its annual influenza vaccine on the strains of influenza viruses circulating in the southern hemisphere during our spring and summer. This is flu season (fall and winter) in the southern hemisphere.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/4/2017

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