November 9, 2018 10:32:49 AM
When you stop and allow it to sink in, the scope of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is simply staggering.
Striking in the waning days of World War I, the virus sickened 500 million people around the world and killed 50 million, as the Daily Journal's Michaela Gibson Morris reported in a story reflecting upon the 100th anniversary of the devastating outbreak.
The 1918 pandemic killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. To put its impact in perspective:
HIV killed 448,060 Americans between 1981 and 2000.
World War II killed 418,500 Americans.
The 1968 H3N2 flu pandemic killed 100,000 Americans.
The 2017-18 flu outbreak killed 80,000 to 90,000 Americans.
A century after the outbreak, it's important to be knowledgeable about a global event that caused so much havoc. It's also important to take and use any lessons that are still applicable today.
That starts with taking the flu seriously. Even with advances in modern medicine, the world remains vulnerable -- particularly in a tightly connected society in which it is much more conducive for a disease to spread.
National and international public health agencies put a lot of effort into monitoring seasonal flu outbreaks and watching for the emergence of new flu viruses that could spark a pandemic.
Flu shots can help against seasonal flu outbreaks by both reducing the risk of getting infected and reducing the severity of the sickness if one does get infected.
By its definition, however, a pandemic flu involves a new strain of the virus that the population has little or no immunity against. In such a case, the flu shot won't be much help; at least not immediately.
That's when healthy habits and an understanding of how the flu spreads can help slow its momentum.
People with the flu can spread it to others from about six feet away, which is why it is so important for those who are sick to stay home. Practicing good cough etiquette by coughing or sneezing into an elbow or a tissue also helps. Washing your hands when you get home from a public place is a smart strategy, too.
"There needs to be an ongoing education about how people can protect themselves," said Dr. Bhagyashiri Navalkele, infectious disease specialist at University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Public health experts warn that it's not a question of if a pandemic flu will come again, it's when.
The more prepared we can be, the better we can mitigate its impact.
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