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What is Influenza?

Marvin wanted me to talk about influenza, specifically the H1N1 variety – the one that’s being called: “swine flu.” Now let me clear up a little confusion: first, you don’t get the swine flu from eating pork. Second, it is not called the “Hieney Virus” – you know, the H1N1

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
August 26, 2009
Episode #011

Page 1 of 3

Today’s topic comes from a Facebook friend named Marvin, who was actually one of my camp counselors when I was in junior high. I am actually pretty nervous about some of the stories he could tell.

Marvin wanted me to talk about influenza, specifically the H1N1 variety – the one that’s being called: “swine flu.” Now let me clear up a little confusion: first, you don’t get the swine flu from eating pork. Second, it is not called the “Hieney Virus” – you know, the H1N1. A friend of mine heard someone say this. Don’t call it this, unless you want people laughing and pointing.

This is a hot topic now. It’s all over the news, and just last week in my office we diagnosed a bunch of people with influenza. This is very unusual for this time of year, and probably represents the H1N1 virus. I think it’s going to be a very busy fall.

My patients have a lot of questions and some of them are pretty scared. As I thought about this topic, I realized that there was no way I could cover this in a single podcast. So this week I am covering influenza in general, and next week I’ll talk specifically about the H1N1 virus and the threat it poses.

Have I mentioned that this podcast is for informational purposes only? My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I am sure I’ve told you that I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.

I have? Well good for me.

What is Influenza?

So what about the influenza virus? Should people be scared? I took a poll on Facebook about this and many people indicated that they thought the H1N1 situation was being blown out of proportion. This doesn’t totally surprise me. People have never taken the influenza virus seriously, so warnings about a worse kind of flu ring kind of hollow. It’s like being warned about a killer hamster attack. It’s hard to take seriously, right? I think this is a big mistake.

Influenza goes around every year causing serious illness and death. The typical flu season runs from November to April, and each year more than 30,000 people die and over 200,000 are hospitalized from influenza-related illnesses in the US alone. Let me repeat that: each year over 30,000 people in the US die from illness related to influenza.

I don’t think most people appreciate just how sick you can get with this virus. I’ve heard people say, “I had a case of the flu” describing an ordinary viral illness. But influenza is anything but ordinary.

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