Archive for the ‘Flu prevention’ Category

Blocking the Flu as You Watch the Big Football Game

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Are you ready for the big football game?  Are you ready for the flu virus if it shows up at your big game party?  This Sunday, as New England clashes with Seattle, your body may be up against its own formidable opponent—one that’s too small to be seen but packs a wallop.

Here are my “X’s and O’s” for blocking the flu on Sunday:

Sick?  Stay Home:  If you feel sick, enjoy the game alone.  Your friends will thank you and you can tune in to the plays in your pajamas!

Get a Flu Shot:  The annual seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months old and older. You may have heard that this year’s flu vaccine is only 23% effective, but not getting the vaccine takes that down to zero.  Getting a flu shot will prevent thousands of hospitalizations. The vaccine starts working about two weeks after you get it, so if you haven’t gotten it yet, it is not too late to help you ward off flu in the coming weeks.


Develop Your Flu Strategy

Friday, November 7th, 2014

flu schematic

Schematic illustration and magnification of an organism being infected with flu:  Influenza virus (circular object) attaches to a host membrane below, producing protein (blue kidney shaped object) to assist infection.

Photo courtesy of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Flu season is approaching rapidly. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that US flu related deaths can vary from 3,000 to 49,000 people depending on the year. The CDC recommends the following flu prevention tips :

  • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccination
  • Wash your hands frequently to help reduce the spread of flu
  • Stay home if you are sick with the flu (CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone)
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, school or work, especially when someone is sick.
  • Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food

How Flu Spreads

The flu virus spreads by passing from one human host to another, either directly by close personal contact or indirectly through contact with an infected surface, such as a door knob or computer keyboard.  It is worth noting that the virus can live on an inanimate surface for approximately two to eight hours after being deposited.  According to CDC, for that reason, it is not necessary to close schools to clean or disinfect against the flu, as the virus dies on surfaces overnight.  Environments occupied around the clock, however, such as homes, eldercare or hospital facilities are subject to continual contamination.

Despite the short lifespan of a flu virus particle on a surface, there is ample opportunity for it to spread in all environments.  That is why frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized or disinfected routinely, especially during flu season.

Cleaning and Disinfecting against Flu

Standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill flu viruses, which are relatively fragile microbes.  Remember:  cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting are all separate and distinct activities.  Cleaning physically removes dirt, grime and some germs; it does not necessarily kill them.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sanitizers reduce, but do not necessarily eliminate microorganisms from the inanimate environment to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations.   Disinfectants are used on hard inanimate surfaces and objects to destroy or irreversibly inactivate infectious fungi and bacteria but not necessarily their spores.  CDC notes that disinfection destroys most recognized pathogenic microorganisms but not necessarily all microbial forms (e.g., bacterial spores).  Depending on concentrations used, the following may be used as either sanitizers or disinfectants:  hypochlorites, including chlorine bleach, chlorine dioxide, iodophors, peroxyacetic acid and quaternary ammonium compounds.

Visibly soiled surfaces should be cleaned followed by sanitizing or disinfecting.  If a surface is not visibly soiled, products that claim to both clean and disinfect may be used.  Soiled surfaces must be cleaned with a general cleaner before they are sanitized or disinfected to avoid the sanitizer/disinfectant being depleted in the cleaning process.  Use EPA-registered sanitizers or disinfectants with labels that indicate their effective against Influenza A.  A fresh chlorine bleach solution may be used as a disinfectant according to these CDC directions:

  • Add one tablespoon of regular strength1 or two teaspoons of high strength2  bleach to one quart of water.  (For a larger supply of disinfectant, add ¼ cup of regular strength bleach or two and one-half tablespoons of high strength bleach to one gallon of water.)
  • Apply the solution to the surface with a cloth; Let the solution remain wet on the surface for 3-5 minutes.
  • Rinse the surface with clean water.

As with all chemical products, pay attention to hazard warnings and product directions.  Use gloves and eye protection as needed. Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless instructed to do so. Never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia as dangerous gases may result.

Getting Ready for the 2014-15 Flu Season

Understanding how flu spreads is key to developing your personal strategy for avoiding flu.  Have a strategy that is both proactive and reactive.  Proactively shore up your bodily defenses by getting a flu vaccination and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.  React smartly when the flu enemy appears around you:  take measures that you know will reduce your exposure to flu, including avoiding close contact with the sick and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.  And, finally, be kind:  If you do get the flu, take steps to avoid passing it to others.

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

1 Regular strength bleach is 5.25% chlorine bleach.

2 High strength bleach is 8.25% chlorine bleach.

Flu Vaccination Blitz Needed for Long-term Healthcare Workers

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Patient being given a flu vaccination.The flu vaccine represents the single best strategy for preventing the flu, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Many healthcare workers are vaccinated every year to help reduce their risk of contracting the flu and spreading it to their patients and families.  Long-term care patients in particular may be prone to serious complications from the flu, so it is important for them and their caregivers to be vaccinated.  There is unsettling news from CDC, however, that staff in long-term care facilities lag behind their colleagues in other healthcare environments in getting their flu vaccinations. This leaves the already high-risk population in long-term care facilities potentially more susceptible to seasonal flu.

The new CDC study finds flu vaccination rates among long-term care physicians and nurses and other healthcare personnel in the 2011-2012 flu season was only 50.2 percent compared to the overall rate among healthcare workers of 66.9 percent. Among healthcare workers, the highest vaccination rates were reported among hospital doctors (86.7 percent) and nurses (78.1 percent). But whereas flu vaccination rates rose among most monitored healthcare worker groups between the last two flu seasons, rates fell among long-term care facility workers. CDC reports that when healthcare workers were asked why they did not obtain a flu shot, the most common responses were:

About the Flu Vaccine, aka the “Flu Shot”

The flu vaccine, popularly called the “flu shot,” consists of a biological agent that stimulates the human body’s immune system to recognize and destroy influenza viruses. Vaccines may be administered through an injection or using a nasal spray.

Each spring a group of scientists meet to take their best guess at which flu strains are likely to be circulating in the upcoming winter. They choose three and the vaccine is developed to destroy those viruses. Sometimes the scientists guess correctly and sometimes they do not. Because circulating flu strains vary over time, people need to be vaccinated each year to maximize their level of protection from flu.

  • A belief that they did not need it (28.1 percent)
  • Concern about vaccination effectiveness (26.4 percent)
  • Concern about side effects (25.1 percent)

Needed: An Intervention Strategy

To help improve flu vaccination coverage, CDC recommends medical care facilities develop a comprehensive intervention strategy. Educational outreach, an important part of that strategy, should emphasize the effectiveness and safety of flu vaccines as well as how the flu is transmitted and the benefits of the vaccine to staff, patients and family.

Last month the Duke University Health Systems held a 24-hour flu vaccination “blitz” (news report). Duke and ten other health centers in the Triangle area of North Carolina set up free flu vaccination stations for staff in well-traveled areas such as the front entrances of hospitals, entrances to cafeterias, and near elevators and conference rooms; staffers vaccinated each other on wards. The goal of the blitz was to vaccinate 10,000 healthcare workers to both reduce flu incidence and conduct a drill for a potential pandemic flu situation.

The Duke blitz can serve as a model for long-term care facilities. It could go a long way toward raising flu vaccination rates among caregivers in constant contact with our elderly and infirm.

Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, FSHEA is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Flu Shots: Save Your Health, Your Marriage, Your Holiday

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

As brilliant gold and red leaves fall from the trees, the majesty of winter is ushered in, along with…flu season. Flu season also coincides with the busiest travel period of the year, an unfortunate coincidence that according to the Walgreens Flu Impact Report, contributed to foiling the plans of over three million US vacations last year. The single best way to protect against the flu is to get the annual flu shot.

This year 43 percent of Americans plan to be immunized in hopes of warding off the flu, according to an interclick survey reported in Infection Control Today. The survey found more women (46%) than men (38%) will roll up their sleeves for the shot this year. Men would be well-advised to be immunized, however. Based on the interclick survey responses, doing so could potentially preserve marital peace. The Walgreens report noted one-third of women respondents think their spouse is very annoying or “a nightmare” when sick, while only 14 percent of men feel the same way.

What is the flu?

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The 2011-2012 flu vaccine was developed to protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will likely be most common during the current flu season. This includes the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.

Flu can peak anytime between October and April in the US, according to Walgreen’s chief medical officer, Cheryl Pegus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest.

Who should be vaccinated?

According to CDC, everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, but it is especially important that the following groups be vaccinated:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children 6 months old and older
  • People 50 years old and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including
    • Health care workers
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from flu
    • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)


  • Try to minimize contact with others who are ill
  • Wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs
  • Disinfect commonly touched surfaces
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick and…

Help preserve your holiday vacation, your health and your marriage: Get a flu shot!

A Surface Disinfectant Formula for Frequently Touched Surfaces

¼ cup chlorine bleach + 1 gallon cool water*

Mix and apply to surfaces. Leave wet for 10 minutes. Rinse.

*Make fresh solutions daily as bleach decomposes over time.

Ralph D. Morris, M.D., M.P.H., (of Ralph’s Closet Fame), is a semi-retired physician in northern Minnesota working as the Medical Director for Greater Northwest EMS and teaching online epidemiology at the University of North Dakota.

For more information on flu, please see

National Influenza Vaccination Week – December 6-12

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated this week (Dec. 6-12) as National Influenza Vaccination Week to highlight the importance of ongoing efforts to vaccinate against influenza (flu) and to foster even greater efforts going forward. This year, National Influenza Vaccination Week serves as an important reminder to seek out the H1N1 vaccine. Although H1N1 activity has dropped steadily over the last few weeks, experts warn that people should continue to pursue the vaccine. Failure to do so could be “disastrous” if the number of cases surge again when students return to school after the holiday break, said Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, in a recent Washington Post article.

According to the CDC, about 70 million doses of vaccine are now available, and supply will be increasing in coming weeks, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, said in a conference call with reporters. Fewer infections, coupled with additional doses of the H1N1 vaccine offers a “window of opportunity” to vaccinate more people, improve immunity and head off the possibility of a new wave of infections.

“We’re far from out of the woods, but we have an opportunity to get more people protected in case there’s another surge or wave in future months,” said Frieden.

As National Influenza Vaccination Week winds down, do your part. Take the time to find a flu clinic near you and get vaccinated. You can find out more about the safety and effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine here. In addition, following simple tips, such as washing your hands and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, will help reduce your risk of contracting H1N1, prevent the spread of germs and potentially minimize the impact of a “third wave” of H1N1 as we head into peak flu season.

(Chris J. Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council).

Second Wave of H1N1 Peaks

Monday, December 7th, 2009

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the level of H1N1 activity across the United States has dropped for the fourth straight week, indicating that the second wave of H1N1 in the United States has peaked.

In its weekly update on flu activity, the CDC reported that:

  • The number of states experiencing widespread flu cases during the week that ended Nov. 21 had fallen to 32, down from 43 states the week before and a high of 48 states in late October.
  • Influenza-like illnesses accounted for 4.3 percent of all visits to doctor’s offices during the week, down from nearly double that proportion in October.

Yet, officials warned that the number of people getting infected with the H1N1 virus remains high, and cases could surge again. Therefore, federal health officials are trying to avoid creating the impression that the outbreak is over.

“We’re far from being out of the woods,” said Thomas Skinner, spokesman for the CDC. “There’s still a lot of flu out there. And we wouldn’t be surprised to see another uptick in activity as we approach the end of December and beginning of January, when kids come back from Christmas break.”

Other experts argue that if there is another surge, it will be relatively mild because most people will have either been exposed to the virus or will have received the H1N1 vaccine.

Thus, federal officials urge people to continue seeking the H1N1 vaccine, despite the current drop in H1N1 influenza cases. According to a Dec. 1 article in the Washington Post, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have become available and officials are predicting millions more will be shipped to states in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, people should protect themselves by:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder; not into your hands.
  • Disinfecting surfaces by wiping them down with a disinfectant according to the directions on the product label.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness (fever with sore throat and/or cough), CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.

For more on stopping the spread of H1N1, please visit or the CDC’s H1N1 information page.

(Ralph Morris, M.D., M.P.H., is a preventive health and public health physician, and a member of the Water Quality and Health Council)

The Water Quality and Health Council Calls for Greater Surface Disinfection to Combat Bad Hygiene During this Flu Season

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Do you cough without covering your mouth while standing in the lunch line? Or sneeze loudly into the air when squeezed onto the morning bus? Nearly all Americans (96 percent) have seen you do things like this – and a shocking three quarters (77 percent) say they are guilty themselves. Even with heightened concerns during this year’s flu season, Americans admit that sleeves are a fine substitute for tissues; one in four wipes their nose on them. One in ten is even more gross; skipping sleeves altogether in favor of hands to wipe their nose and then… extending for a handshake or reaching for a door handle.

A recent survey by the Water Quality and Health Council shows that despite constant warnings from health officials and a recent study showing a 31 percent chance of infection through hand contact with contaminated surfaces, few Americans frequently clean the public surfaces they use. At the same time, not many have faith that others are cleaning them either. Regardless of this, just one in ten is inclined to do the job themselves.

Knowing that flu viruses can live on inanimate surfaces for hours or even days should motivate people to take personal responsibility to protect themselves; disinfecting surfaces when feasible, using disinfecting wipes or chlorine bleach – especially at home and at work – as well as washing hands and practicing good personal hygiene habits. Contacting school administrators, office managers and even health club managers will help you understand their cleaning and disinfecting protocol and how you can better safeguard against the flu.

To help people prevent the spread of H1N1, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping surfaces clean by wiping them down with a disinfectant according to the directions on the product label. Also, in addition to cleaning surfaces, the CDC advises a number of helpful tips. For more information on how to prevent the spread of H1N1 through surface disinfection, please visit

Dr. Ralph’s Flu Preparedness Closet

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

What will you need to stay healthy and secure during a pandemic flu outbreak?

Fact: A well-stocked space in your home could make all the difference.

Individuals and families should prepare for potential pandemic flu-related isolation from their communities for an extended period of time. Dr. Ralph’s Flu Preparedness Closet is a helpful checklist of what you need to have on hand.

  • Food and bottled water

Ideally, a 6-8 week supply stored in the home.

  • Portable power sources

An ample supply of energy resources (batteries, propane, etc.) to heat, light and operate necessary

home functions, including your home computer.

  • Household products and sanitary items

Paper products (Kleenex, toilet paper, paper towels), plastic products (garbage bags, re-sealable

bags), cleaning supplies, non-water hand sanitizer, personal hygiene products, etc.

  • Prescription drugs

Vital for diabetics, heart, lung and other chronic conditions that require daily medication.

  • Over-the-counter medications and first aid supplies

For the treatment of fever, fl u, colds, etc. including a fully stocked fi rst aid kit for the treatment of

minor injuries and illnesses.

  • A supply of household chlorine bleach

For use as an emergency water purifi er and to sanitize surfaces.

  • Communications equipment

A battery-operated radio and several fully charged cell phones to maintain an open information

channel with family, friends, local authorities and community information sources.

  • Home computer system/Internet services

To provide access to local, national and global news, health-related information and pandemic related news updates. Also vital to allow some individuals to continue participation at their

place of employment or school.

  • Pet supplies

Food, medication and sanitation supplies for family pets.

  • Neighborhood service directory

A directory of medical, emergency and community services and their locations.

  • Money

Without access to ATMs and banking services, cash on-hand could be necessary to replenish supplies and purchase necessary services.

Download a pdf file

Disinfect–Don’t Infect

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Disinfect – Don’t Infect

Controlling viral populations on household surfaces is an effective way to cut down on the spread of seasonal and H1N1 flu. Although flu viruses require live host cells to multiply and spread, they can live on inanimate surfaces for hours or even days. Good hygiene requires more than just cleaning. Proper disinfection provides an additional safeguard for areas where people come into contact with contaminated surfaces.

Disinfect frequently used surfaces with a diluted chlorine bleach solution or disinfectant wipes.

Some common surface areas are “hot spots” for germs, including doorknobs, counters, table tops, dials, handles and switches. In fact, it can take up to 3 days for viruses on surface areas to die. To use chlorine bleach for general surface area disinfection, use a fresh mixture of ¼ cup of household bleach with one gallon of cool water (if you need a small amount, use one tablespoon of bleach in a quart of water). Apply to surfaces. Leave wet for 10 minutes, then rinse.

Disinfectant wipes also can be used to eliminate viruses on everyday items, such as telephones, cell phones, computer keys, computer mouse, arm rests and children’s toys.

Clean dishes, cups and utensils in the dishwasher.

If washing by hand, use very hot water and use a diluted bleach solution in the rinse water to disinfect. The right mix is 1/4 cup of household laundry bleach in one gallon of water.

Use chlorine bleach on white bedding, towels and other laundry as appropriate.

According to a 2004 study by the National Institute of Nursing Research, households that use hot water and bleach in the laundry experience almost 25% less infections than households that do not bleach

Chlorine Bleach: Helping to Manage the Flu Risk

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
A Flu Risk

Management Plan

Obtain the flu vaccine, preferably in October or November.
Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
Wash hands often for 15-20 seconds at a time (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”).
Disinfect surfaces with diluted chlorine bleach solution (1/4 cup per gallon water).
Remind children to practice healthy habits.

Every fall, millions of Americans rush to be vaccinated against the influenza virus, or “flu,” in the hope of avoiding the worst of the seasonal symptoms of fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, congestion and muscle aches. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to prevent this disease.

A sound risk management plan for avoiding flu infection maximizes all known preventive measures, including “flu shots” for everyone six months old and older, frequent hand washing and smart use of a common household product–chlorine bleach.

How Viruses Operate and Propagate

A virus consists of a small collection of genetic material surrounded by a protective protein shell. As very simple microbes, viruses cannot reproduce on their own, but only by “hijacking” various living host cells, including bacteria, plant, animal and human.

Viruses inject their genetic material into the DNA of host cells and manipulate them to manufacture millions of new virus particles. And to ensure the efficient spread of the newly produced virus particles, the coughing and sneezing of human flu sufferers send droplets of virus-laden mucous streaming into the air and onto human skin, including mouths or noses of people nearby, and other surfaces. Dr. Dennis Clements, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Duke University, estimates that a single sneeze can send flu-infested water droplets as far as three feeti.

Equipped with a mode of transportation to new, fertile host cells, the virus thrives, even if, statistically speaking, most organisms fight the infection successfully. Most important to the virus’ survival, it is on the move, ever seeking and infecting new hosts.

Outsmarting the Flu Virus With Chlorine Bleach

Although viruses require live host cells to multiply and spread, they can live on inanimate surfaces for up to two hours or more, giving them a convenient window of opportunity to be picked up by unsuspecting organisms, namely, us. Likely points of infection are commonly touched surfaces: doorknobs, desks, counters, dials and handles. Managing the viral populations on these surfaces is an effective way to cut down on the spread of flu. Chlorine bleach is a logical germ-busting, readily available product to turn to for this task. It works by penetrating the protective shells of viruses.

An EPA-registered chlorine bleach solution or a dilute solution of regular laundry bleach (1/4 cup of bleach in a gallon of cool water) is an effective and inexpensive all-purpose disinfectant, used commonly in homes and healthcare facilities. Some health clubs keep spray bottles of chlorine bleach solution on hand for members to use to disinfect exercise equipment. The active ingredient in chlorine bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is one of the chlorine disinfectants routinely added to municipal drinking water to control waterborne disease. Since the introduction of water chlorination to the U.S. in 1908, death rates due to typhoid fever, cholera and hepatitis A have declined dramatically. In addition to water disinfection, chlorine bleach solutions are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for use in safe food production, including food preparation and service in healthcare facility kitchens and cafeterias. Chlorine bleach is used routinely to kill common food pathogens such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli.

The Chlorine Bleach Surface Disinfectant formula

¼ cup chlorine bleach 1 gallon cool water

Mix and apply to surfaces. Leave wet for 10 minutes. Rinse.

A recent study by the National Institute of Nursing Research showed that hot water and bleach are more effective in reducing viral infections, such as flu, than antibacterial products. This is not unexpected because antibacterial products work only on bacteria, whereas bleach destroys both viruses and bacteria. According to the study’s author, Dr. Elaine Larson, PhD, RN, Associate Dean for Research at Columbia University’s School of Nursing, households reporting bleach use for laundry at the beginning of the study experienced approximately one-fourth the rate of infection of households that did notii.

Children And Flu: Special Considerations

According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population attends or works in schools. Additionally, large numbers of American families rely on day care facilities for full-time or after-school child care.

Compared to adults, children have fewer antibodies for fighting off illness, which allows viruses to multiply more quickly in children’s bodies. With more viruses in their bodies, youngsters can spread viruses more easily. Children under age two often suffer gastrointestinal problems when they are infected with the flu, and their stool contains the virus. Add to this the less-than-perfect hygiene practiced by many young children, and the risk of infection from contact with youngsters rises.

The CDC has issued advice for preventing the spread of flu in childcare settings. In addition to vaccinating all children between six and 23 months of age, recommendations include teaching proper hand washing and keeping childcare environments clean. Frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and other commonly shared items, should be disinfected daily with either an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant or EPA-registered chlorine bleach solution. According to the recommendations, if an EPA-registered chlorine bleach is not available, generic chlorine bleach may be used by mixing ¼ cup chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of cool water.

Getting Through Flu Season With the Help of An Old Friend

From farm animals to humans

Influenza virus ultimately originates in farm animals from which it is transferred to humans. For centuries, people noticed that flu outbreaks coincide with epidemics in pigs, ducks and horses. Human influenza probably dates back to 2000-5000 B.C.-the time of domestication of these animals. The virus owes its longevity to an ability to incorporate small changes, or mutations, as it shuttles between humans and domesticated animals.iii

Understanding how viruses use us to sustain their existence in the great web of life is an aid to developing the best flu risk management plan possible. Getting a flu shot, limiting contact with the infected, washing hands frequently and thoroughly, and mixing up an effective germ-busting solution of water and familiar household laundry bleach will go a long way to protecting us from nature’s seasonal flu scourge.

Flu Statistics

  • The time from when a person is exposed to flu virus to when symptoms appear is about one to four days, with an average of about two days.
  • The US normally vaccinates a larger proportion of its population than any other country except Canada.
  • Two-thirds of the US supply of flu vaccine usually goes to adults between 18 and 65. Yet 90 percent of deaths from flu occur in those over 65 years of age.
  • On average, approximately five to twenty percent of US residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year.
  • The yearly death toll in the U.S. from flu varies from 17,000 to 51,000.

i Weigl, A., (2004, Oct. 14). Staying safe: Precautions can help cut the risk, On-line. Available:

ii Wart, P.J. (2004, Oct. 12). The virus fighting duo: Hot water and bleach, HEALTH Plus Health and Wellness, Vanderbilt University. On-line. Available:

iii Karlen, A. (1995). Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History and Modern Times. New York: Simon & Schuster.