This Year's Flu Hits Younger Adults the Hardest

Health officials are urging people who’ve not been vaccinated against the flu shot to do so — especially if they are aged 25-50.  In the state of Arkansas, the average age of the 15 who have died from the flu this year is 42, up from 69 this time last year. Additionally, the flu season hasn’t peaked yet.

The flu this year is predominantly H1N1, and it shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise that it’s hitting younger people the hardest. The Spanish flu hit the young with similar ferocity nearly 100 years ago.

Here’s why:

This particular flu virus was different and puzzling to health professionals at the time. Those who were hit the hardest were the nation’s healthiest adults, not the infirm or infants and the elderly, the segment of the population traditionally the most vulnerable to influenza.  Once a person became afflicted, they were non-ambulatory within a short period of time.  If they were lucky, they died within 24 hours.

Those who weren’t so lucky fell victim to their own hyper-vigilant immune systems; antibodies flooded their systems and landed in only one part of the body, creating what medical experts call cytokine storms.  Many patients died by either drowning in their own body fluids, or bleeding to death while losing the lining of the intestines.

Although WWI soldiers brought the Spanish flu to the United States when they returned from Europe, ironically they may help render the disease impotent should another Spanish flu-type virus emerge.  In the late 1990s, the Chief of the Medical Pathology Department of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology requested to study the frozen lung tissue of two frozen World War I soldiers felled by the illness nearly a century ago.  Click here to read more about this fascinating research.

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