MANILA, MAY 14, 2009 (STAR) Several times in history, flu viruses mutate so radically that they could trigger a pandemic that could claim millions of lives worldwide.

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 100 million people has become a grim reminder of what could happen if the world is again caught unprepared.

Ever since, the world’s health bodies have acted quickly and aggressively on any occurring flu cases, including the most recent one that already claimed 29 lives: Influenza A (H1N1).

“Flu virus is constantly evolving, evading any natural immunity that our body may have developed. In fact, seasonal flu is a lot more scarier as it has been responsible for the death of between 250,000 and 500,000 people worldwide every year,” said Dr. May Montellano, president of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society of the Philippines.

For years, flu vaccination has proven to be one of the best protections against getting and spreading flu.

But while the vaccine for the seasonal flu will probably be not effective against Influenza A (H1N1) virus, the shot may, nevertheless, be able to prevent the possibility of mixing seasonal flu virus strains with a new one that has the potential to become a pandemic type of flu strain.

“Letting the flu run its course and without doing any precautionary measures can be dangerous to children and older adults who are most vulnerable to developing bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration. The flu could also worsen chronic medical conditions in individuals with congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes,” Montellano said.

Montellano also reminded that getting vaccinated now would be a wise move as the country nears its flu season, which starts to peak in June.

Montellano explained that the flu virus is spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with the flu.

“Sometimes people may become infected by just touching something with the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose,” she added.

What is more alarming is that an infected individual may be able to pass the virus beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to a week after becoming sick.

“That means you should be properly armed against the flu considering that you won’t be able to readily identify if that person near you is spreading the flu or not,” Montellano said.

But even if someone is already sick, the spread of the virus could still be minimized by practicing good health habits like covering one’s mouth when coughing, frequent washing of hands, and staying home from work, school, and errands to minimize infecting others.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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