It comes suddenly. You could be waking up in the morning, or maybe getting ready for bed, and suddenly you start to feel sick. The next thing you know you are coughing and running a fever. You have the Flu.
It is okay though, you tell yourself. You will just take some aspirin and cold medicine. In a few days you will be right back to your normal self. Everyone gets the flu at least once in the winter, right?
Tell that to the 20 million to 40 million people who died of a rare, incurable strain of influenza in 1918. In one year this particular stain of your everyday flu, called the Spanish Flu, killed more people than both World War I, four years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague, and in 25 weeks killed more people than AIDS in 25 years.
It was originally deemed the three-day fever, as its victims first contracted a cough and a headache. Intense chills followed with a fever that reached 104 F. Deep brown spots appeared on the cheeks as a thick, bloody fluid overtook the lungs. The face of the victim turned blue as his or her blood stopped circulating. Then the victim drowned in his or her own fluid. It could take just a few hours.
It was not a cure that saved the world's population from further destruction, but the virus itself. With its thirst for blood quenched, it disappeared into the night - leaving its trail of corpses behind, waiting to wreak its havoc again.
The grim reality is that the next big influenza pandemic could be on the horizon. A pandemic is defined as a global outbreak, and normal patterns for such outbreaks have shown to be anywhere from 11 to 42 years. The last pandemic was in 1968 - 41 years ago. It was considered the mildest pandemic of the 20th century, but still caused 34,000 deaths in the United Sates alone.
Experts now believe that the 1918 influenza epidemic was caused by Avian "Bird" Flu, which was re-introduced to the world in 1997. It started in Hong Kong where 18 people were hospitalized, six of whom died, mostly young, strong and healthy individuals. In 1999 the virus attacked again, killing two more.
There are currently 15 known strains of Avian Flu, and direct contact with birds is believed to be the source of the virus. Once contracted it can be spread from person to person like the normal flu.
Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research, said on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: "We can predict now 12 to 18 months of stress, of watching loved ones die, of potentially not going to work, of wondering if you're going to have food on the table the next day. Those are all things that are going to mean that we're going to have to plan unlike any other kind of crisis that we've had in literally the last 80 - some years in this country."
The main culprit for the possible spread of the Avian Flu can be found in factory farms, where conditions are ripe for the virus to surface as it did in 1918. In these factory farms tens of thousands of chickens are all crammed together, allowing for the perfect conditions for the virus to spread and mutate.
On an individual level, one needs to be aware of the fact that the majority of viruses, ones like Avian Flu, get into our bodies from touching the mucous membranes of our eyes and nose. Fingernails harbor viruses like chickens in a factory farm.
Andrew Cavanagh, a member of the Australian Medical Writers Association, offers three ways to prevent Avian Flu and other respiratory viruses: Try not to touch your face with your hands, always wash your hands after touching live animals, and perform facial dips regularly to clean out your nasal passageways.
It's too easy to get complacent and take light of the danger that influenza possesses, but all it takes is one deadly strain for the 1918 virus to rear its ugly face on humanity once more. And this time, the United Nations has predicted 5 to 150 million human deaths.
Michale Greger, the author of the Bird Flu, said in his book: "60 million Americans get the flu every year. What if it suddenly became deadly?"