Be cautious, but don't panic

Friday, May 1, 2009

The outbreak of what is now being called the 2009 influenza A subtype N1H1 needs to be taken seriously. The exposure and likelihood of contracting flu of any kind can be minimized with simple precautions.

Remember what your mother told you: Wash your hands, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of liquids, avoid congested areas where there is a lot of coughing, stay home if you're ill.

As this newest strain of flu spreads around the globe, here are some quick flu statistics that might help put this outbreak in perspective:

* 3 to 5 million individuals are infected with some strain of flu virus every year around the world.

* There are 250,000 to 500,000 deaths each year attributed to flu and its complications, according to the World Health Organization.

* The last flu outbreak of pandemic (universal) proportions was the 1968 Hong Kong flu epidemic that killed 1 million worldwide.

* The most deadly pandemic flu outbreak was from 1918 to 1920, killing 50 million, or 2.5 percent of the world's population at the time.

* In the U.S., 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year.

* On average, 200,000 Americans are hospitalized annually because of flu-related illnesses.

* 36,000 Americans die every year from flu complications.

There are good reasons to be cautious about this year's swine flu.

For one thing, it tends to affect healthy individuals as seriously as those who normally suffer the most from other flu strains: the young, the elderly and those with other medical conditions. In addition, there is no built-up immunity to this strain.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.

And don't panic.

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