Influenza, or the flu, is a highly-contagious viral disease that kills more people every year in the United States alone than any other vaccine-preventable disease. The flu is often mistaken for a common cold, and in fact, people often treat it like a common cold in failing to take proper measures to prevent it; that is, in failing to get an annual flu shot. Doctors will tell you that people often grossly underestimate how severe the flu can be, and its attendant dangers.
To put the subject into perspective, think about this: History is marked by the flu pandemic of 1918. At that time, there was a worldwide outbreak, or pandemic, of influenza known as the Spanish flu. It is estimated that 500 million people, (1/3 of the world’s population at the time) were infected with this strain of flu, and that between 25-50 million died from it. Between 675,000-700,000 people in the U.S. were stricken, and approximately 195,000 of the ill died in one year alone in this country.It was not until 1938 that Dr. Jonas Salk and another scientist developed the first flu vaccine. Dr. Salk’s work in developing this vaccine also was instrumental in his development of the polio vaccine. To put the seriousness of the flu in perspective, think about the diseases that are all but nearly eradicated as a result of vaccines and modern medicine. Polio for example is certainly a rarity, at least in all but the most underdeveloped areas. But, the flu is a constant threat because, as doctors and scientists will tell you, it constantly changes its genetic makeup by mutation. This is why the flu vaccines change annually as the strains of flu appear to change on roughly that basis. The Center for Disease Control publishes data and reports on this topic and drug manufacturers of vaccines prepare new vaccines every year to combat the several strains of flu thought to be prevalent at the time. And while the flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone in this country, with exceptions, there is no guarantee that you will not contract the flu, even if you get your flu shot. Think about how our scientific and medical world has changed in the 100 years since the 1918 flu pandemic. When you think about all of the incredible changes and developments that have saved lives and extended the average lifespans, it is hard to fathom news such as the CDC reporting that the 2017-2018 flu season was the deadliest flu season in 40 years. Don’t let your guard down. Get your flu shot.