What’s True about the Flu
AAMC helps coordinate community preparedness for the upcoming flu season
Autumn is the time for bringing out sweaters and hoodies to protect against chillier weather. It’s also the time to consider annual flu shots, so the vaccine can protect us against upper respiratory infections that thrive during the winter.
But flu season is more complicated than it used to be, with not only seasonal influenza but strains such as avian (bird) flu in the news. Plus, health officials around the world are putting plans in place to deal with the possibility of a pandemic, an outbreak of a rapidly spreading global disease for which people have little or no immunity.
Q: Can chicken soup help with the flu?
A: Chicken soup might not cure you, but it can help make you feel better. In 2000, researchers tested several brands of canned soups along with a homemade variety and found that in addition to the steam that helps unclog congestion in the chest and nose, the broth also has anti-inflammatory properties that aid in soothing sore throats and help stop the movement of neutrophils (white blood cells that encourage the flow of mucus that accumulates in the lungs and nose). The findings were reported in the October 2000 issue of Chest.
Recently AAMC hosted a town hall meeting for county residents to discuss different types of flu and how local officials are preparing for a potential pandemic. AAMC specialists partnered with officials from the Anne Arundel County Department of Health and the County Office of Emergency Management to answer questions and help people learn how to minimize their risk of contracting the flu.
“As a regional medical center, AAMC is committed to our mission of serving the health care needs of the people in our community. Part of this mission includes providing information for prevention of disease, diagnostic services and treatment,” said Joseph Moser, M.D., AAMC’s vice president of Medical Staff Affairs.
Seasonal influenza is an upper respiratory illness that is transmitted person to person. Symptoms of seasonal flu include a high fever, headache, extreme fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and possible gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Flu germs spread when respiratory droplets from an infected person are deposited on the mouth or nose of someone nearby, or on an object like a doorknob that others may touch.
Most people have some immunity to seasonal flu, and physicians have developed effective vaccines to help prevent outbreaks. But the illness is still unpredictable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is responsible for more than 36,000 deaths in the United States per year and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications.
Avian, or bird flu, is caused by viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. These same viruses are fatal to domestic birds, and can be transmitted from the infected birds to other mammals and also to humans. One strain of virus, the H5N1 variant, has been particularly deadly. In the last few years a growing number of people in Asia have contracted the virus after being exposed to infected poultry. However, there has been no human-to-human transmission.
A virus such as avian H5N1 has the potential to trigger a pandemic because humans have no immunity, and the disease could evolve into a strain that is transmitted from person to person. Because avian flu is spread by migratory birds, the virus could be carried to countries around the world very quickly.
Health officials have developed plans on the national, state and local levels to help with pandemic preparedness. No one can predict when or if a pandemic will occur, but officials are sure that a national outbreak of illness will cause major disruptions in transportation, services, and availability of goods. Public gatherings will be severely limited and many employees will be unable to come to work.
Regional medical centers like AAMC are always preparing for possible shortages of staff, beds and supplies. The hospital is working with local and regional organizations to pool resources and establish triaging systems for prioritizing care and treatment of patients. Isolating patients with the flu also will be important for preventing the spread of influenza among other patients and hospital staff.
“We also will be asking people in the community to learn and adopt practices for prevention of the flu and be cognizant of when medical treatment may be necessary,” said Dr. Moser. For more information and questions about the flu visit the AAMC web site at www.aahs.org.