And In-Flu-Enza

I had a little bird,

Its name was Enza.

I opened the window,

And in-flu-enza.  (children’s rhyme)


Pictured: Not ‘Enza’


Last week, the flu came to my house.  My oldest daughter, the normally healthy one, was out of school for the whole week.  On top of the initial virus, she developed a bacterial infection in her sinuses (aka “a complication”).  As I have mentioned before, I am really interested in infectious diseases.  I do not, however, enjoy them taking up residence in my house.  The atypical flu pattern within my own home made me start thinking of 1918.

Influenza is one of my favorite infectious diseases to study.  I have written several papers and delivered numerous lectures covering the 1918 Pandemic.  I might be a little obsessed, but this also allows me to write on the topic with some level of authority.  I have, for those interested, included a few links at the end of the post if you want to learn more.


It is a giant flu plushie!*


One of the interesting hallmarks of the 1918 strain (H1N1), was the pattern of mortality.  Typically, influenza (and most similarly spread diseases) are the most lethal to the immunocompromised and those on the polar ends of the age demographic (infants and the elderly).  So, when you look at graphics for mortality, they have a notable ‘U’ shape.  In the case of the 1918 Pandemic, we see a ‘W’ shape, with the expected death rates at the ends of the curve, but an unexpected and significant uptick in the middle around age 25-34.  This age range is typically the healthiest in any given population.  While my daughter is certainly not in that age range and she is very much still alive, I wondered why she got sick and developed a complication while the rest of us remained healthy.   Of course, we are all vaccinated against the flu (something not available in 1918) and in an ideal world, we would have escaped unscathed.


Photo from Otis Historical Archives National Museaum of Health & Medicine- NCP 1603, CC BY 2.0

In my household, we have two chronically healthy individuals, my husband and S.  They are rarely ill, and I am quite a bit envious of their immune systems.  Your ever-humble Rie and K, both have asthma and M is well on his way to a similar diagnosis.  Asthma puts you at increased risk for contracting the flu and having complications.  So, based on that, one would think that the highest risk population in my house would contract the flu.  It even stands to reason that, given that the strain was likely not included in this year’s vaccine (or some type of mutation), we all should be suffering.  However, this did not happen either.  There are plenty of explanations for why this happened and I am still thinking about it days later.  The most logical explanation is that I did a marvelous job at containment and all that cleaning and proper hand washing technique paid off.


On that note, I would like to remind you that the flu season is still in full swing.  Become a flu reporter , or if you want to contribute even more, sign up for Go Viral .


For more reading about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic:

* I would like to mention that the flu plushie photo came from  I shared it because I think it is a really cool idea.  I dream of having entire shelves covered in plushie pathogens.  I cannot say anything about the quality as I (sadly) do not own any of them.


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