By Madeleine Richey

Guess what? It’s flu season! This is far less celebrated than the holiday season, but no less well known. The flu is a nasty thing to come down with, but it’s very common and usually not life threatening, the symptoms of which, as listed by are:

  • A 100oF or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

If you start to experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, confusion, seizures, or other unusual side effects, you are advised to seek medical help immediately.

Luckily, health experts are constantly working to develop vaccines that will prevent against flu. The “flu shot” as most of us probably refer to it, can prevent us from falling ill with some of the more serious strains (sorry, it doesn’t protect against the stomach flu, though I’m sure we all wish it did). The vaccine changes from year to year to anticipate which strains of the flu will be circulating. The shot is currently being designed to protect against H1N1 (Swine flu), and other strains that are viewed as a potential pandemic threat.

What is a pandemic? By definition, a pandemic is the outbreak of a disease on a global scale—the number of deaths caused by the spread of the disease, and the way it spreads, are important factors in defining whether or not an event is considered a pandemic. lists four major pandemics that have occurred within the last century, one of which occurred within this past decade.

The outbreak of H1N1 in 2009 is probably something most of us remember. Swine flu was a big scare, and the government made huge strides to try to prevent the spread of the virus. Even local churches were asked to stop drinking from a communal cup during services to keep the infection from spreading. This pandemic, though quite a scare, was small compared to the Spanish Influenza that infected more than 1/5 of the entire world population. This was perhaps the deadliest of flu pandemics, as the high mortality rates were found even among healthy adults, who are usually those least at risk in a pandemic (high risk groups include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a serious health condition).

The H7N9 virus (Avian Influenza A) is currently being monitored for its ability to create a pandemic, though the strain has not been detected in the U.S. yet. Drugs are available to treat and prevent the spread of the virus, so it is quite possible that if the need should arise, a pandemic could be avoided altogether.

Modern medical science has advanced greatly in the last century, the evidence of which can be seen in the decreasing death rates in the flu pandemics of the 20th and early 21st centuries, the worst being in 1918, and the numbers growing progressively smaller with each new pandemic.

Chances are, if you have the flu, it’s not serious. But, if the symptoms become worse, such as an extremely high fever, or you start experiencing symptoms that are not in keeping with those usually exhibited by the flu, it’s best to see your doctor immediately. Though the flu isn’t lovely to experience, it has a fascinating history, and continues to be very interesting to watch as it develops, as it constantly changes into something new.

Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own.” Visit her blog at

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