Chills. Aches. Fever. Vomiting. Sneezing. The list of symptoms goes on and on. If you haven’t been sick with influenza this season, chances are you know a handful of people who have been.

The flu has been spreading across the country like a wildfire. The severity of the flu varies from person to person. Bed rest, hospitalization, or possible death has made this flu season a challenging one for people living in the United States.

About 36,000 people die from the flu each year. Whether a person gets a flu shot, or chooses an alternate method, prevention is the best way to help decrease these statistics.

Surviving the FluHistory of the Flu

Most history classes in the United States teach of the flu pandemic of 1918, in which the Spanish flu killed closed to 675,000 people in our country, 20- 40 million people worldwide, which was 3% of the world’s population at the time.

It took over 20 years after the Spanish flu pandemic for scientists to approve the first flu vaccine, which was used on U.S. military during World War II. The first nationwide flu vaccination was administered to the public in 1976. Since then, flu vaccinations are frequently developed to combat each new strain that appears each year.

 Since 1918, there have been three pandemics in American history:

1957 – 1958: A flu strain from the Far East traveled to the United States and infected mostly young children, young adults, and pregnant women.

1968 – 1969: A virus similar to the one ten years prior originated from Hong Kong. Antibiotics, improved medical care, and possible immunity from the 1957 flu virus lessened the severity of this pandemic.

2009 – 2010: H1N1, or the swine flu, lead to 18,300 deaths worldwide.

How Does The Flu Virus Spread?

Most everybody knows that the flu virus is contagious, which means that it can spread from person-to-person. However, what is not commonly known is how it is most often spread.

Most flu experts believe that the virus spreads through droplets that escape into the air when a person with the flu coughs or sneezes. In other words, you may not feel it or see it, but if your infected co-worker next to you sneezes, the droplets could land on your mouth or nose and be breathed into the lungs. It is believed to be less common to get the flu by touching an object that has been infected and then touching your nose or mouth.

Adults are contagious for one day before symptoms appear and up to five to seven days later. Children can pass on the virus for longer than seven days. Some people are carrying the virus and show no symptoms, so just because a person you are around doesn’t appear to be sick, during flu season – and especially during this epidemic – you should take all of the extra precautions to help ensure that you do not become infected.

History tells us that the flu hits the largest cities first because that is usually where people are traveling. With the advent of technology, like airplanes, that have allowed us to travel to farther reaching places more rapidly, the flu virus is able to spread much quicker than in the past.

Flu Statistics by State (2012-2013 Season)

Typically peak season for the flu is at the end of January to the beginning of February. This season, it hit in December. During peak times, 47 states reported widespread flu action.  By the close of the month of January, 45 children have died of the flu virus since the beginning of the season.

 The highest flu activity is concentrated in the Midwest and Western states from Mississippi all the way to California, which has seen a rise in flu cases over the last several weeks of January.  Other key flu hotspots include the northern points of Wisconsin and Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. A flu emergency has been declared in New York, as 10 adults and two children have died due to the virus. The least activity is in found in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Flu Intervention

 Although we are in a flu epidemic, most people who contract the flu are not going to need medical attention. Typically, a person infected with the flu will have to stay at home and rest until they are better and avoid contact with other people. But in some cases, the symptoms get worse and lead to hospitalization.

Age groups that are more at risk of getting the flu include children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, and those with long-term illnesses. These are the age groups that are most susceptible because they generally have the weakest immune systems. If someone in this age group gets the flu, they should be monitored even closer for signs that they should be taking a trip to the emergency room.

For children, these symptoms include: fast breathing, extreme lethargy, high fever, turning blue, refusing to drink enough fluids. In adults, chest pain, disorientation, dizziness, and consistent vomiting are all warning signs to look out for. For both age groups, if the symptoms disappear but return with a cough and fever as this could be a sign that the virus is worsening.