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What do Taiwan and Texas have in common?

It's time to be thinking about the flu season again. This year, experts expect the Taiwan and Texas strains of influenza virus to be the main players in the deadly game that kills some 10,000 Americans every year.

Although the flu season normally begins in early winter, it was well under way by October last year; by mid-winter, there was a nationwide epidemic. So great was the demand for immunization that there was a shortage of the vaccine. Although there was no way of predicting whether the 1992-93 flu season would be as bad, this country's four vaccine manufacturers produced an extra 18 million doses for this year.

The two major strains of influenza virus, Beijing and Taiwan (the Texas strain is a variety of the latter), seem to alternate from year to year. This is probably because some continuing immunity against the previous year's strain exists among those who were vaccinated, besides those who got the disease.

Whatever the reason, everyone over 65, as well as younger persons with cardiac or pulmonary disease, plus those with inadequate immune systems (e.g., persons with HIV) should be revaccinated every year. Plenty of vaccine is now available, and although it does not prevent disease altogether, it does greatly reduce the serious complications that cause death. The vaccine does not become fully effective, however, until about two weeks after it is given.

Flu, but the way, is a respiratory infection, not an intestinal disorder. The term "intestinal flu" is thus a misnomer for a variety of unrelated, less serious gastrointestinal infections. Typically, flu is accompanied by such symptoms as headache, fever, and (often) severe aching all over the body. Although not deadly in itself, the flu virus permits overlying bacterial infections to weaken the lung's defenses. As a result, people can (and do) die of flu.

The most famous--or infamous--flu epidemic took place in 1918-19, leaving millions dead around the world. A repetition of this epidemic is unlikely--thanks to the availability of more specific vaccines, new antibiotics, and continuing surveillance by the World Health Organization and our own Centers for Disease Control. However, early vaccination is still the best preventive measure.
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Title Annotation:flu season
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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