Columns / Discourse / January 26, 2011

Did You Know: I just flu in

Has anyone else noticed this sickness going around Knox? In the spirit of sickness I decided to look into the flu and see what interesting facts I could find out. Turns out there were a bunch of interesting historical facts about it. So in order to avoid contracting the flu, wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your elbow and stay healthy!

1. I always wondered why the swine flu was called by that name. Apparently the H1N1 form of swine flu is one of the descendants of the complex strain that caused the 1918 flu pandemic. It is called the “swine flu” because the overall structure of the virus is of the type that affects pigs, though other components besides swine are in the virus structure. The “H” and “N” in H1N1 stand for Hemagglutinin and Neuraminidase, which are key molecular components of the virus.

2. The symptoms of the swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, nausea and fatigue. They may also include diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms are very general, making the diagnoses of swine flu from these symptoms alone difficult.

3. Flu viruses can live up to 48 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel, and up to 12 hours on cloth and tissues. They can remain infectious for about one week at human body temperature, over 30 days at freezing temperatures and indefinitely at temperatures below freezing.

4. The United States government suggests citizens should have a two-week supply of water and food, a supply of necessary prescription drugs and a supply of nonprescription drugs in case of flu quarantines or other emergencies. So just in case you get quarantined, make sure to have these supplies at the ready! And don’t forget tissues.

5. Air travel has significantly increased the speed with which diseases can spread. Most of the world’s great cities are now within a few hours of each other. As SARS showed, a virus that is in Hong Kong one day can be carried to any point in Southeast Asia within three or four hours, to Europe in 12 hour, and to North America in 18 hours. Nearly 1.5 billion passengers travel by air every year.

6. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between three and five million people worldwide get a serious case of the regular flu each year; tens of millions get milder cases. Between 250,000 and 500,000 people die globally of the flu every year.

7. There have been four major global flu pandemics since 1900. The most recent pandemic is the current swine flu (officially named “Novel H1N1 Influenza A”). The last global pandemic was the Hong Kong flu (1968-1969), which killed approximately one million people. The Asian flu pandemic (1957-1958) originated in China and is estimated to have killed between one and four million people. The Spanish flu pandemic (1918-1919) killed between 50-100 million people worldwide.

8. At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, any student caught without a mask during the Spanish flu was automatically suspended and a town in Arizona passed a law forbidding people to shake hands.

9. “Cures” for the Spanish flu included: drinking whiskey, smoking cigars, eating milk toast, gargling with salt water, getting fresh air and partaking of interesting concoctions like “Grippura.” Some doctors doused their patients with icy water while others “bled” their patients. Other doctors tried surgery by slicing open a patient’s chest, spreading his ribs, and extracting pus and blood from the pleural cavity (the cavity surrounding the lungs), which was almost always fatal in flu victims.

10. For any lovers of history out there, here’s an interesting fact you might not have known. Some historians blame President Woodrow Wilson’s (1856-1924) lingering case of the Spanish flu as the reason he unexpectedly caved into stringent French demands for the harsh peace terms that decimated Germany which, in turn, led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and WWII (1939-1945). I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Blame the whole war on poor, sick Woodrow Wilson!

Emily Park

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