Homer:Stomach Flu, Seasonal Flu, Pandemic Flu
What’s the Difference? | Guest Commentary
by San Miguel County Public Health Officer David Homer, M.D.
Jul 18, 2007 | 785 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For many, the thought of the “flu bug” brings memories of a terrible stomach ache because it is commonly used to refer to the stomach flu. But the real “flu bug” is much more than that.  Every year the U.S. suffers a seasonal flu that kills approximately 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000 more people due to complications.  This annual flu is not the stomach flu, but has symptoms such as fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, and muscle pain. 

Seasonal flu is caused by an influenza virus.  Flu vaccinations are available every year to protect against the seasonal flu.  It is necessary to get vaccines annually because the virus changes. However, the “bug” that causes the seasonal flu changes predictably such that we are able to protect ourselves against it.

If the virus were to radically change, however, pandemic flu could result.  Pandemic flu is a widespread outbreak of a new influenza virus that people have not been exposed to before.  If a pandemic were to occur, as many as one in four people in Colorado could become sick and potentially die during such an outbreak.  Though symptoms will be similar to those of the seasonal flu, they may be more severe with serious complications.

Experts cannot predict when another flu pandemic will occur, but history shows that a pandemic has occurred three times in the past century in the U.S. – including Colorado – and most experts believe one will occur again and inevitably reach our state.

Stomach Flu: Caused by a variety of symptoms that disrupt the digestive system. Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, mild fever, fatigue, chills, loss of appetite and muscle aches. Full recover in one-13 days. Rest is the best treatment. Best prevention method is frequent and thorough hand-washing. Also avoid contact with individuals with stomach flu.

Seasonal Flu: Caused by influenza viruses that are similar to those already affecting people. Symptoms are fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache and muscle pain.  Recovery within one to two weeks for most people. Deaths usually confined to “at risk” groups, such as the elderly and infants. Antiviral drugs are generally available for those most at risk of serious illness. Vaccination is effective because the virus strain can be fairly reliably predicted. Hand-washing is also important in preventing spread of the virus.

Pandemic Flu: Caused by a new influenza virus that people have not been exposed to before. Symptoms are similar to seasonal flu, but may be more severe and complications could be more serious. Associated with higher severity of illness and, consequently, a higher risk of death. Severity will be determined by the strain of the virus. Antiviral drugs may be in limited supply, and their effectiveness will only be known once the pandemic is underway. A vaccination against pandemic flu may not be available at the start of the pandemic. New strains of the virus may be accurately identified and producing an effective vaccine could take six months.

The best thing the public can do is educate itself and their families, prepare emergency supplies and a plan and ask what plans are being made in their workplace and schools.  Recently, a survey was created to gauge the level of emergency preparedness in the county.  To participate in the brief survey, visit sanmiguelsheriff.com.  To help prepare you and your family for Pandemic Flu or other

public health emergencies, visit the Emergency Management page on the sanmiguelsheriff.com Web site and Pandemicflu.gov.

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