Ever since the first official case of Ebola in the U.S. was diagnosed at the end of September, Americans have been concerned, to say the least, about the health of their families, friends, and neighbors. Although the disease — which had been running rampant in poor African countries, causing thousands of deaths — had commanded international attention and action, as well as sympathy, it became a more pressing issue for most Americans only once it crossed our borders. The possibility of an Ebola epidemic occurring on U.S. soil had become a real-life scenario in a matter of hours.
But Americans are being reminded now that another epidemic already exists, and it comes back into the U.S. every year starting in October. It kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people globally each year, including approximately 20,000 in the U.S. alone. Even though healthcare researchers develop a new vaccine for the newest strain each year, anywhere from 5-20% of Americans get sick from it.
We’re talking about the flu. This disease is back in the country for its annual extended wintertime stay, and it has already claimed its first life.
Health officials have announced that the 2014-2015 flu strain is to blame for the recent death of an elementary student in the Triangle region of North Carolina. To protect the privacy of the family, officials are not releasing any more details about the child, but they have noted that the child had pre-existing medical conditions which put him or her at a greater risk for developing complications after contracting the flu.
This news is a grave reminder that although the flu is difficult to eradicate completely, receiving a yearly vaccination can help control the disease. Health officials are encouraging everyone to be vaccinated every year and to receive the shot as early in the flu season as possible, since the vaccine takes about two weeks to start building up the body’s defense against the virus.
In the meantime, officials note that simple preventative measures are always effective to reduce one’s risk of getting the flu: washing hands frequently is the best defensive measure to take. If you have already come down with the flu, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing will reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Ultimately, if suspect that you have come down with the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you stay home and limit direct contact with other people until you’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours.