Despite the recent anthrax frenzy, a more deadly disease could prove fatal to many Americans. This disease is one that has killed over 600,000 people nationwide in its last three major epidemics and is much easier to contract than anthrax the influenza virus.
While anthrax has replaced influenza as the country”s primary immunization concern, confusing flu symptoms with anthrax symptoms will more than likely result in unnecessary panic.
Though there have been 22 cases of anthrax since Nov. 7, the flu accounts for more than 20,000 deaths and 100,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States. The flu mainly kills the elderly and infants, but all adults are susceptible.
“There is a low likelihood of developing anthrax because it”s in very isolated areas, we have medicine and antibiotics to prevent the disease, and it”s not contagious,” said Curtis Allen, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There is a high likelihood of developing influenza. There are tens of millions of influenza cases per year.”
Confusing the flu with something more serious like anthrax, while seemingly reasonable considering recent events, is not prudent.
Of the three types of anthrax inhalation, cutaneous (transmitted through the skin), and intestinal only inhalation anthrax has flu-like symptoms. Responsible for 10 of the confirmed cases, inhalation anthrax initially causes fever, chills, sweat, tiredness, muscle pain, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, dry cough and vomiting.
In addition, within hours to days, severe breathing problems and shock occur. In seven of the other 12 cases, the dark, painless skin lesion that characterizes cutaneous anthrax was observed.
“One of the major differences (from anthrax) is that flu and the other diseases prevail with a runny nose,” Allen said.
Other differences include sore throat in flu and flu-like illnesses but less frequently in anthrax. The shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting found 80 percent of inhalation anthrax cases are evident in only six percent to 12 percent of flu cases.
Influenza is such a significant health concern that the CDC each year mounts an aggressive campaign to encourage Americans to get flu shots.
At the University, University Health Services has advised all students be vaccinated.
“It will improve their chances at getting through the season,” said Robert Winfield, Interim Director of UHS. “(The shot) is going to give them peace of mind, for it will protect about 75 percent of people who are exposed,” he added. UHS recently sent an email to all University students detailing their expanded immunization efforts this fall with the Michigan Visiting Nurses.
The flu season, which lasts from October until March, generally peaks in January or February. The CDC and UHS suggest the best time for anyone to be immunized is November. Of the estimated 85 million doses that will be delivered this year, more than 86 percent will be distributed in October and November.
Flu shots are available for $15, billable to students” University accounts, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at UHS, Sunday through Friday.