Each year the world experiences the annual influenza season in their respective winter seasons, December through March in the northern hemisphere, and June through September in the southern hemisphere.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a family of viruses. The influenza virus spreads in respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing as well as touching something with the virus on it and then touching one's mouth or eyes.
Influenza usually starts suddenly and typically includes the following symptoms; high fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny nose and body aches. Occasionally diarrhea and vomiting occur, though these symptoms are more common in children.
Complications stemming from influenza include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of some chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma and diabetes.
Each year, an estimated 36,000 Americans die of influenza or complications from infection. Most deaths tend to be in the very young or elderly populations.
The best way to prevent influenza is get a flu shot each year. However, because the normally circulating influenza viruses are constantly undergoing slight genetic changes (i.e. antigenic drift) we need to make a new influenza vaccine each year.
It typically takes approximately eight months from identifying the new strains of the virus to incorporating them into the vaccine, to the final production of the reformulated vaccine. Currently on a worldwide basis, there is only industry capacity to produce about 330 million doses of vaccine each year. To increase this capacity will take a major investment.
April 15, 2005
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