The months of January and February are always periods to be on the lookout for one of winter’s worst “visitors”, the flu. Also known by it more formal name, the influenza virus, this highly contagious disease is much more serious than a common cold, and can lead to dangerous and sometimes fatal complications. Recent publicized warnings are advising people in Israel, especially older people and small children to take extra precautions, and many health authority officials are saying that stains of this year’s “flu bug” seems to be more aggressive and widespread than ever.

There are three prevalent kinds of “bug” or influenza, which go by names of Spanish flu, Asian and Hong Kong flu, and combinations of the three. Although vaccinations, such as Tami Flu are offered to people annually, it is usually impossible to guarantee that the given vaccination will be effective against the particular virus “visiting” a country or region each year. Other serious viral diseases that have been given considerable attention in recent years is the Avian of “bird flu” and a condition known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome of SARS. Although both SARS and bird flu have resulted in a number of deaths world wide, their combined total to date have been far less that the mortality rate of a single influenza season which usually results in thousands of deaths, even in countries like the U.S. and Europe, who claim to have to best health care systems.

This year, it has been reported that the largest flu outbreaks in Israel are in the major population centers; especially Jerusalem and the heavily populated central region, stretching from Ashdod to Netanya. Since many people work in large buildings, such as those in the high tech industry, and with many frequenting shopping malls and traveling on modes of public transport, such as buses and trains, the likelihood of getting “bitten” by the flu bug is much more possible since the virus is also an airborne one, as well as one that is transmitted by touching things that already contaminated people were touching, such as door knobs and even computer keyboards. Schools, hospitals and nursing homes are also especially vulnerable to outbreaks of flu, and small children in nurseries and day care center often pass the “bug” from one to another.

This year, many cases of flu seem to be accompanied by high fevers and various body aches and pains, in addition to the normal symptoms, such as headaches, nasal and lung congestion, as other respiratory problems. Anyone with high fever, feelings of stiffness in the neck, and especially feelings of nausea should see a doctor immediately as they could have something more serious such as meningitis. Flu can also develop into conditions such as pneumonia, especially in small children and people over age 50. Although an average case of flu usually runs its course in 5 to 7 days, come cases last considerably longer and develop in to these and other complications.