Fighting the Flu and Other Diseases

A new flu vaccine, administered via a tiny needle.

A new flu vaccine, administered via a tiny needle.

As we near the fall, the weather cools and kids begin returning to school, and many people begin worrying about the flu and the spread of disease.

These days, people have more ways than ever to help protect themselves against the influenza virus. An article recently run by the Associated Press examines the number of different types of flu vaccine now available. There is a more potent vaccine that protects against multiple types of flu, and vaccinations made especially for people with allergies to eggs, or fear of needles. The flu, it seems, doesn’t stand much of a chance this year.

Of course, many people don’t have access to vaccinations, and as a result, as many as 500,000 people die from the flu yearly. And throughout history, the influenza virus has taken millions of lives.

A 3d model of the flu virus

A 3d model of the flu virus

Still, thanks to the dedication and efforts of scientists and doctors through history, we have multiple tools to battle influenza and its potentially devastating effects. Unfortunately, there are many other health threats still around.

Some bacteria, for example, grow resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, the infections and illnesses these bacteria cause are more difficult to fight, and kill an estimated 23,000 people a year.

Meanwhile, other diseases, such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) seem to frequently be making the news, cropping up in small pockets throughout the world and inflicting great damage on infected individuals.

There are unfortunately no easy answers on what can be done to prevent and fight these diseases, but plenty of people are doing everything they can. The BBC recently ran an article looking at the doctors and nurses who put themselves in great danger to stop the spread of

X-ray of the lungs of a person with SARS

X-ray of the lungs of a person with SARS

SARS. They didn’t do so for glory or fame, but because they believed it was their duty to do what they could to help the sick and prevent the sickness from spreading.

They are reminiscent of the the people who braved influenza infection during various outbreaks throughout history, or even the Late Middle Age physicians who ventured into plague houses, risking everything to protect people and gain just a bit more knowledge and understanding of a disease that was devastating humanity.  With time, thanks to the efforts of people like this, we may have someday have vaccines and other ways to protect against whatever diseases and bacteria prove to be a threat in the future.

To learn more about the history of the influenza virus, its impact on history, and people’s efforts to prevent and fight it, please check out Diseases in History: Flu by Kevin Cunningham (ISBN # 978-159935-105-6) from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. The Diseases in History series also features books about the plague, HIV/AIDS, and malaria.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“It’s figuring us out faster than we’re figuring it out.” -From the movie Contagion

This negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM) shows recreated 1918 influenza virions. Courtesy of the CDC.


It’s flu season, and one thing that will motivate you to get a flu shot this year is going to see the #1 box office ranking movie Contagion.

The movie opened on September 9, 2011, and over the weekend made over 23 million dollars. The plot of the movie is about the threat of a fast-moving influenza virus with no known cure on the human population.

That’s exactly what happened in 1918 when the Spanish flu ransacked the globe.  Kevin Cunningham, author of Morgan Reynolds’s Diseases in History: Influenza, wrote that the flu “blazed for eighteen months and killed between 40 and 100 million human beings. Then it vanished.”

Healthy young adults became deathly ill in a matter of hours. A victim’s ears and lips turned blue.  Soon the skin turned the same color. As the disease advanced, the fingertips and feet turned black. Blood streamed from the nose and gums, and was coughed up in thick sputum that soaked the victim’s pillows and bed sheets. The lungs were virtually turned into pulp by the virus and the immune system’s attempt to kill it…. Sometimes it killed in weeks, sometimes less than twenty-four hours.

The most frightening part of Contagion is that an epidemic like the one in 1918 could happen again. Cunningham wrote:

Humanity has conquered or curbed many diseases in the last century. Influenza remains undefeated. It is an astonishingly complex adversary–wildly contagious, ever-changing and secretive, at times only aggravating, at other times a ferocious killer.

At the end of August, the New York Times reported that the United Nations have released a warning that H5N1, commonly known as bird flu, may be making a come back in Southeast Asia, and that the virus “poses unpredictable risks to human health.”

So go see Contagion and then go get a flu shot.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information on Influenza and other dangerous diseases, check out the Morgan Reynolds series Diseases in History by Kevin Cunningham:

Diseases in History: Influenza (ISBN 9781599351056)

Diseases in History: Plague (ISBN9781599351025)

Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS (ISBN9781599351049)

Diseases in History: Malaria (ISBN 9781599351032)

Published in: on September 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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