Did I miss something, or are we talking about flu in mid-February? Isn’t that like the kids asking you about Halloween instead of Valentine’s Day? My response, after a microsecond of disorientation, is “What, where did that come from?” That is how I feel about a spring influenza epidemic.
A short primer: Influenza germs hang out in poor countries in the Southern Hemisphere where people and animals live together. That seems a surprising thing but, if your pig or goat is your most valuable possession, you don’t let him out of your sight. Most of the new influenza viruses cross over from animals into humans where they live together. Thus animal “flus”: Swine Flu, Bird Flu, etc.
So a new and improved (from the viruses’ view) influenza virus goes out to make its mark on the world. That is somewhat easier these days with our migratory populations of air, rail and ship travelers. There is a several day incubation period where you have the virus and are infected, but you don’t look bad or feel sick yet. That’s the problem.
So why is influenza a winter bug anyway? A lot of scientific study has gone into answering this simple question. There are aspects of the germ that make it winter friendly. The viral coat is soft, fragile and almost like mucus in warm temperature, and hard and durable in cold temperatures. So the virus lives longer in the winter.
We are also better hosts for the germ in the winter. The air is so dry our lips are chapped and cracked and so is the rest of our respiratory tree. These tiny cracks let the germs in easily. We are crowded together in schools, airplanes and churches, breathing each other’s air and, unfortunately, someone is always sick. Buildings are more tightly sealed to keep out the drafts and keep the warm, moist (possibly infected) air on the inside.
For influenza to get going, it has to land in a population of susceptible, unvaccinated people.
So here we are, thinking about spring, and the CDC is telling us influenza is on the rise.
Blame it on global warming, the ozone hole, or the illiteracy rate in America, but here it comes.
Expect a steep rise in cases in the next few weeks. I am already seeing some really sick people in my office. They have high fevers (103), body aches like they took a beating, a headache and sometime nausea. They looked like they wanted to die (I was careful to keep them away from sharp instruments).
So, while it seems a bit late to be talking about flu shots, flu season is finally arriving.
The realities are that flu vaccine is still thankfully available. Flu vaccine is still a really good idea if you want to save yourself some major misery. Remember it takes about nine days to develop good flu immunity after a flu shot. So, what are you waiting for?