You’re burning up. Your joints ache and your muscles hurt—even around your eyes. You lie down because you’re so weak, but then you sit up to cough, and watery snot rushes from your nose. Poor baby. You’ve got the flu.
In honor of the virus that has helped me sell millions of books—(well, hundreds)—I thought I’d give you some fun facts about the flu.
Every year, some kind of flu slithers up unsuspecting noses causing untold horror and sometimes even death. This is the proverbial ‘seasonal flu’. But every now and then, the flu virus mutates, creating a new virus our bodies have never encounter. We aren’t immune to its affects, so our bodies aren’t prepared to fight it. That’s when we get hit with the dreaded ‘pandemic flu’. (Cue music: dum-dum-dum DUM.)
Famous pandemics of the 20th century:
Spanish Flu (H1N1) in 1918, which killed between 20 and 100 MILLION people worldwide. (Yeah, that’s quite a discrepancy in numbers, but remember, we didn’t have the Internet back then to get an accurate count.)
Asian Flu (H2N2) in 1957, which killed 2 million
Hong Kong Flu (H3N2) in 1968, which killed 1 million
Swine Flu (H1N1) in 2009, which killed a whopping 18,036. (A bit anti-climactic for a pandemic, right? But it was a new strain so it gets the coveted classification.)
What are those crazy Hs and Ns for anyway?
The H stands for hemagglutinin and the N for neuramidinase. These are sugar proteins on the surface of the virus. There are 16 types of H proteins, and 9 N proteins, so according to the CDC, that makes 144 different combinations possible.
For my novel, I decided to play on the H1N1 combo, and make the virus in my story H10N1. I thought it would sound ten times worse than H1N1, even though the numbers don’t indicate intensity.
Because of all those possible combinations, the medical profession recommends that we get a flu shot every year.
Flu vaccines—what’s the deal?
Every year, the WHO (World Health Organization) decides what type of flu they think we’ll get when the season starts the following winter. I’m not sure if they use darts, or a spinning wheel, but they decide on three likely strains of the virus (representing an H1N1, an H3N2, and a B strain).
Pharmaceutical companies inject these three strains into chicken eggs (say what?) and grow the vaccine. From what I understand this is a slow process and that’s why they have to get started early. So by the time January rolls around and everyone is hacking and coughing in your face, you cross your fingers and hope the vaccine that was incubated 10 months ago is the right one. If not—you better go grab some Tamiflu and Kleenex.
And here’s an interesting tidbit. Since the vaccine is grown in eggs, vegans sometimes object to getting vaccinated. (Think I’ll stay out of vegetarian eateries during the winter.)
Now you may ask, ‘If I get a flu shot every year, does that build up my immunity?’ According to a spokesperson from the CDC, there is some benefit from prior years’ vaccinations, but only if you get a similar flu strain in that year. They still insist that you need this year’s flu vaccine to protect you against this year’s flu, even though they guessed what this year’s flu would be. (Yeah, my tongue’s in my cheek, too.)
Flu shot vs nasal spray.
If you’re squeamish about getting shots, you now have the option of getting your vaccine in a nasal mist—sort of. There are quite a few restrictions on FluMist.
First of all, you should note that a flu shot contains a dead flu virus, while the mist is alive! (Muwa-ha-ha.) So obviously, there can be more severe side effects to the mist. The mist cannot be used on children under 2, or adults over 50, or in the case of my neighbor Marty, children over the age of 50.
In adults, side effects include runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough; in children, side effects also include wheezing, vomiting, fever, and muscle aches. (Somehow, suffering through these symptoms so that I can AVOID similar symptoms seems a bit redundant.)
But you decide. If you’re going to be a big baby about a little pin prick, then by all means, take it up the nose.
Time to scare the beejesus out of us all.
The flu season usually starts in January, but this year it started early. 8 states had already reported outbreaks in November. The last time that happened was the 2003-2004 season, which happened to be the dreaded H1N1 pandemic.
And since there hasn’t been a major flu pandemic in many years, experts believe that we are due for one. (Cymbal crash, please.)