December 7 – Who Flu There?

Today’s factismal: Just 2,500 Americans have had the flu thus far this season.

Every year, the influenza virus strikes (actually, a couple of them strike). And every year, millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people elsewhere come down with it. Though most of the people who come down with the flu eventually recover, hundreds of thousands of people die every year. Thus far this year, we’ve been lucky; only about 2,500 people have come down with the flu.

So far, the flu has only hit a few places in the USA - but the season is early yet! (Image courtesy CDC)

So far, the flu has only hit a few places in the USA – but the season is early yet!
(Image courtesy CDC)

That is due in large part to the efforts of the CDC and other medical authorities; thanks to them, influenza is now the ninth most common cause of death instead of being the most common cause.  One reason that flu is less deadly now is because our medical care is better. Another reason is the introduction of annual vaccines; though sometimes they don’t quite match the flu strains that occur, they still reduce hospitalizations from the flu by nearly 70%.

Do the

Do the “Dracula sneeze”
(Image courtesy the University of Arizona)

What can you do other than get a flu vaccine? Doctors recommend three things: First, wash your hands a lot and practice “vampire sneezes”; that helps reduce the spread of germs and keeps the flu form infecting others. Second, get the flu vaccine; that helps keep you healthy even when someone else forgets to cover their sneeze. And third, report your flu on Flu Near You. They’ll track outbreaks and help us make certain that next year’s flu is even less of a problem than this year’s!
https://flunearyou.org/#/

October 7 – A Real Shot In The Arm

Today’s factismal: In 1900, influenza was the leading cause of death in the USA; thanks to vaccines, it is the ninth most common cause today.

Flu season officially started this week. Of course, there is never a week without someone, somewhere having the flu but this is the start of the long slow climb in cases that will peak sometime around January before dying back until next October. And doctors are doing their best to make that peak as small as possible by encouraging everyone to get a flu shot. (I just had mine. I’m having the side effect of a sore arm. I’m also having the side effect of not dying from the flu.) Sadly, this year, the nasal spray is not an option.

Behold the mighty syringe! (Image courtesy the CDC)

Behold the mighty syringe!
(Image courtesy the CDC)

Even if you had one last year, doctors urge you to get one this year, too. You need to do this because, just like the common cold, the flu is a family of viruses and not a single virus (like polio). The family of flu viruses is made up of rapidly changing variants that are identified by the proteins on the outside of the shell that holds the virus (that’s what the “H1” and “N1” mean). Because the virus itself changes from year-to-year, the vaccine that you had last year won’t work against this year’s strain any more than a polio vaccine will prevent the measles. And because we don’t know which virus will be the most common in any given year, all that the researchers can do is make a vaccine that protects against the most likely strains; because it provides some protection against all strains, it helps to lower the infection rate.

Gobs of the H1 influenza virus, all lumped together (Image courtesy CDC)

Gobs of the H1 influenza virus, all lumped together
(Image courtesy CDC)

The flu vaccine reduces the chances of getting the flu by nearly 70% (that is, if 100 people who took the vaccine would have gotten the flu then only 30 actually do). Even better, the vaccine reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms in those folks who do get sick. And that’s important because the flu acts as a “gateway infection”; people sick with the flu can develop bronchitis or pneumonia. (That’s happened to me twice.) And the deal gets even worse for folks with heart disease – the flu is known to make heart failure much more likely. Though this is most likely to happen for people who haven’t developed a good immune system yet (such as babies and toddlers) and for folks who have older and less active immune systems (like senior citizens). But in some cases (like the 1918 outbreak), the flu targets healthy people instead, which is why everyone should get the vaccine!

Do the "Dracula sneeze" (Image courtesy Arizona State University)

Do the “Dracula sneeze”
(Image courtesy Arizona State University)

OK, but what can you do other than get a flu vaccine? Doctors recommend three things: First, wash your hands a lot and practice “vampire sneezes”; that helps reduce the spread of germs and keeps the flu form infecting others. Second, get the flu vaccine; that helps keep you healthy even when someone else forgets to cover their sneeze. And third, report your flu on Flu Near You; that helps the doctors track the outbreak and send resources where they are needed.
https://flunearyou.org/

September 30 – One Flu Over

Today’s factismal: Flu season starts tomorrow – are you protected?

Every year about this time two things happen: malls start blaring Christmas carols and doctors start urging people to get flu shots. The first is inescapable (even though it makes Santa cry), and the second is essential. That’s because, though most people don’t realize it, flu can be a killer. For example, in 1918, the “Spanish” flu sickened 30% of the world’s population and killed more than 50 million people; if a similar outbreak happened today, there would be more than two billion people sick, or the equivalent of the entire population of China and India combined.

Gobs of the H1 influenza virus, all lumped together (Image courtesy CDC)

Gobs of the H1N1 influenza virus, all lumped together
(Image courtesy CDC)

Even when it isn’t as virulent as the 1918 outbreak, the flu can be deadly. Today it is the ninth most common cause of death in the USA; last year’s outbreak killed approximately 174,000 in the USA alone. It is so deadly because the flu is a rapidly evolving family of viruses that love to live in warm, moist places like lungs. The family of flu viruses is made up of rapidly changing variants that are identified by the proteins on the outside of the shell that holds the virus (that’s what the “H1” and “N1” mean). Because the virus itself changes from year-to-year, the vaccine that you had last year won’t work against this year’s strain any more than a polio vaccine will prevent the measles. And because we don’t know which virus will be the most common in any given year, all that the researchers can do is make a vaccine that protects against the most likely strains; because it provides some protection against all strains, it helps to lower the infection rate.

The H7N9 influenza virus which has just started infecting people (Image courtesy CDC)

The H7N9 influenza virus which has just started infecting people
(Image courtesy CDC)

And that’s why doctors urge everyone to get a flu vaccination every year. The flu vaccine reduces the chances of getting the flu by nearly 70% (that is, if 1,000,000 people who took the vaccine would have gotten the flu then only 300,000 actually do). Even better, the vaccine reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms in those folks who do get sick. And that’s important because the flu acts as a “gateway infection”; people sick with the flu can develop bronchitis or pneumonia. And the deal gets even worse for folks with heart disease – the flu is known to make heart failure much more likely. Though this is most likely to happen for people who haven’t developed a good immune system yet (such as babies and toddlers) and for folks who have older and less active immune systems (like senior citizens). But in some cases (like the 1918 outbreak), the flu targets healthy people instead, which is why everyone should get the vaccine!

Do the

Do the “Dracula sneeze”
(Image courtesy the University of Arizona)

OK, but what can you do other than get a flu vaccine? Doctors recommend three things: First, wash your hands a lot and practice “vampire sneezes”; that helps reduce the spread of germs and keeps the flu form infecting others. Second, get the flu vaccine; that helps keep you healthy even when someone else forgets to cover their sneeze. And third, report your flu on Flu Near You; that helps the doctors track the outbreak and send resources where they are needed.
https://flunearyou.org/

Stay healthy!

February 16 – Bless You!

Today’s Factismal: During the plague of 590, Pope Gregory I began the custom of saying “God bless you” after a sneeze and made it mandatory with a Papal Decree in 600 CE.

Sixth century life was tough for a Roman. If Rome wasn’t being sacked, then it was suffering from famine, civil war, or plague. Thanks to the constant danger, Rome had gone from being the center of the civilized world with a population of over 1,000,000 to a backwater city with a population of less than 100,000.

One of the godesses that Romans would pray to for relief from the flu (My camera)

One of the godesses that Romans would pray to for relief from the flu
(My camera)

Of course, Rome wasn’t alone in suffering. A series of plagues swept across Europe in the period between 100 CE and 600 CE, causing widespread death and devastation. And while most modern people think of the plague as being just the bubonic plague, or black death, the early Europeans faced plagues of influenza, measles, smallpox, and rubella as well as the bubonic plague.

Romans would soak away the flu in baths like these (My camera)

Even after they became Christian, Romans would soak away the flu in baths like these
(My camera)

These plagues would infect a city or region and start killing indiscriminately. The first warning that most people had of a plague outbreak was when their friends and neighbors started keeling over. And that’s what happened during the early part of Pope Gregory I’s rule. A sudden outbreak of the plague began in 590 CE and people started dying faster than they could be sanctified for burial. Because the physicians of the day thought that a sneeze signified the start of the plague, Gregory ordered everyone to start saying “God bless you” after a sneeze as a way of warding off the disease. His order appeared to work; the plague stopped as suddenly as it began and Rome continued its long, slow decline. (It got better.)

A few years later during yet another plague outbreak, Gregory issued a Papal Decree making it mandatory for all those under his rule to bless each other after a sneeze. Though the watchword was somewhat less successful the second time around, it nevertheless remains in use today.

The spread of flu in North America on February 16, 2016 (Image courtesy Flu Near You)"

The spread of flu in North America on February 16, 2016 (Image courtesy Flu Near You)”

If you’d like to help science prevent modern outbreaks of the cold and flu (or are afraid of getting it), then why not take part in the Flu Near You mapping program?
https://flunearyou.org/

September 30 – Open Season

Today’s factismal: Flu season starts tomorrow – are you protected?

Every year about this time two things happen: malls start blaring Christmas carols and doctors start urging people to get flu shots. The first is inescapable (even though it makes Santa cry), and the second is essential. That’s because, though most people don’t realize it, flu can be a killer. For example, in 1918, the “Spanish” flu sickened 30% of the world’s population and killed more than 50 million people; if a similar outbreak happened today, there would be more than two billion people sick, or the equivalent of the entire population of China and India combined.

Gobs of the H1 influenza virus, all lumped together (Image courtesy CDC)

Gobs of the H1N1 influenza virus, all lumped together
(Image courtesy CDC)

Even when it isn’t as virulent as the 1918 outbreak, the flu can be deadly. Today it is the ninth most common cause of death in the USA; last year’s outbreak killed approximately 174,000 in the USA alone. It is so deadly because the flu is a rapidly evolving family of viruses that love to live in warm, moist places like lungs. The family of flu viruses is made up of rapidly changing variants that are identified by the proteins on the outside of the shell that holds the virus (that’s what the “H1” and “N1” mean). Because the virus itself changes from year-to-year, the vaccine that you had last year won’t work against this year’s strain any more than a polio vaccine will prevent the measles. And because we don’t know which virus will be the most common in any given year, all that the researchers can do is make a vaccine that protects against the most likely strains; because it provides some protection against all strains, it helps to lower the infection rate.

The H7N9 influenza virus which has just started infecting people (Image courtesy CDC)

The H7N9 influenza virus which has just started infecting people
(Image courtesy CDC)

And that’s why doctors urge everyone to get a flu vaccination every year. The flu vaccine reduces the chances of getting the flu by nearly 70% (that is, if 1,000,000 people who took the vaccine would have gotten the flu then only 300,000 actually do). Even better, the vaccine reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms in those folks who do get sick.  And that’s important because the flu acts as a “gateway infection”; people sick with the flu can develop bronchitis or pneumonia. And the deal gets even worse for folks with heart disease – the flu is known to make heart failure much more likely. Though this is most likely to happen for people who haven’t developed a good immune system yet (such as babies and toddlers) and for folks who have older and less active immune systems (like senior citizens). But in some cases (like the 1918 outbreak), the flu targets healthy people instead, which is why everyone should get the vaccine!

Do the

Do the “Dracula sneeze”
(Image courtesy the University of Arizona)

OK, but what can you do other than get a flu vaccine? Doctors recommend three things: First, wash your hands a lot and practice “vampire sneezes”; that helps reduce the spread of germs and keeps the flu form infecting others. Second, get the flu vaccine; that helps keep you healthy even when someone else forgets to cover their sneeze. And third, report your flu on Flu Near You; that helps the doctors track the outbreak and send resources where they are needed.
https://flunearyou.org/

Stay healthy!

February 16 – Gesundheit!

Today’s Factismal: During the plague of 590, Pope Gregory I began the custom of saying “God bless you” after a sneeze and made it mandatory with a Papal Decree in 600 CE.

Sixth century life was tough for a Roman. If Rome wasn’t being sacked, then it was suffering from famine, civil war, or plague. Thanks to the constant danger, Rome had gone from being the center of the civilized world with a population of over 1,000,000 to a backwater city with a population of less than 100,000.

Of course, Rome wasn’t alone in suffering. A series of plagues swept across Europe in the period between 100 CE and 600 CE, causing widespread death and devastation. And while most modern people think of the plague as being just the bubonic plague, or black death, the early Europeans faced plagues of influenza, measles, smallpox, and rubella as well as the bubonic plague.

These plagues would infect a city or region and start killing indiscriminately. The first warning that most people had of a plague outbreak was when their friends and neighbors started keeling over. And that’s what happened during the early part of Pope Gregory I’s rule. A sudden outbreak of the plague began in 590 CE and people started dying faster than they could be sanctified for burial. Because the physicians of the day thought that a sneeze signified the start of the plague, Gregory ordered everyone to start saying “God bless you” after a sneeze as a way of warding off the disease. His order appeared to work; the plague stopped as suddenly as it began and Rome continued its long, slow decline. (It got better.)

A few years later during yet another plague outbreak, Gregory issued a Papal Decree making it mandatory for all those under his rule to bless each other after a sneeze. Though the watchword was somewhat less successful the second time around, it nevertheless remains in use today.

The spread of flu in North America on February 16, 2014 (Image courtesy Flu Near You)

The spread of flu in North America on February 16, 2014
(Image courtesy Flu Near You)

If you’d like to help science prevent modern outbreaks of the cold and flu (or are afraid of getting it), then why not take part in the Flu Near You mapping program?
https://flunearyou.org/

November 8 – Bless You!

Today’s factismal: In 1900, influenza was the leading cause of death in the USA (153,000 deaths or 202/100,000); today, it is the ninth most common (50,097 or 16/100,000).

Every year about this time two things happen: malls start blaring Christmas carols and doctors start urging people to get flu shots. The first is inescapable (even though it makes Santa cry), and the second is essential. That’s because, though most people don’t realize it, flu can be a killer.

Influenza, or “flu” for short, is a rapidly evolving family of viruses that love to live in warm, moist places like lungs. For most people, a bout of the flu is just annoying. If the achy muscles, stuffy nose and coughing don’t make you stay in bed, then the headache, chills, fever and sore throat will. And, for most people, the flu is something that they can just push through; after about seven days, it will be over and life will be back to normal.

But for people who haven’t developed a good immune system yet (such as babies and toddlers) and for folks who have older and less active immune systems (like senior citizens), the flu can be much more serious. That’s because the flu acts as a “gateway infection”; people sick with the flu can develop bronchitis or pneumonia. And the deal gets even worse for folks with heart disease – the flu is known to make heart failure much more likely.

And that’s why doctors urge everyone to get a flu vaccination every year. The flu vaccine reduces the chances of getting the flu by nearly 70% (that is, if 1,000,000 people who took the vaccine would have gotten the flu then only 300,000 actually do.). Even better, the vaccine reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms in those folks who do get sick. But why doesn’t the vaccine stop 100% of flu cases? And why do we have to get a new dose every year?

Both of those questions have the same answer: because the flu is a family of viruses and not a single virus (like polio). The family of flu viruses is made up of rapidly changing variants that are identified by the proteins on the outside of the shell that holds the virus (that’s what the “H1” and “N1” mean). Because the virus itself changes from year-to-year, the vaccine that you had last year won’t work against this year’s strain any more than a polio vaccine will prevent the measles. And because we don’t know which virus will be the most common in any given year, all that the researchers can do is make a vaccine that protects against the most likely strains; because it provides some protection against all strains, it helps to lower the infection rate.

Do the "Dracula sneeze" (Image courtesy Arizona State University)

Do the “Dracula sneeze”
(Image courtesy the University of Arizona)

OK, but what can you do other than get a flu vaccine? Doctors recommend three things: First, wash your hands a lot and practice “vampire sneezes”; that helps reduce the spread of germs and keeps the flu form infecting others. Second, get the flu vaccine; that helps keep you healthy even when someone else forgets to cover their sneeze. And third, report your flu on Influenzanet (good for folks in the EU; strangely, the CDC doesn’t have anything like it for the US); that helps the doctors track the outbreak and send resources where they are needed.
https://www.influenzanet.eu/

Stay healthy!