I have been dealing with a bad flu for the past week and a half. It started with a slight cough that later turned into a continuous one, along with congestion, a runny nose, headaches and weakness. It is a real setback for me.

Although I am feeling somewhat better, I still don’t have all my energy or my health back. It has been a long time since I have had to deal with such a serious sickness. I do my best to maintain my health and I follow preventative measures to stay away from colds or the flu. It has been about three years since I have had to deal with a major flu or cold. The fact remains that many people still do not understand that if they are sick they should be very careful not to spread it to family, neighbours and friends. The flu this year is worse than any I have had in the past 10 years.

I had a real good education in preventative measures during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Sickness) crisis that took place in the spring of 2003. I was travelling at the time and I was regularly going through international airports at the height of the crisis. All the news reports pointed to people transmitting the disease from touch, direct contact or from public surfaces infected by those who had SARS.

People who I once thought as super hygienic or paranoid for protecting themselves from touching public surfaces seemed to make sense to me after the SARS crisis. I found myself becoming very self-conscious of public surfaces such as doors, handles, buttons, rails and anything else that hundreds or even thousands of others have had contact with.

After SARS, I fully understood the public health announcements about regularly washing your hands during the day. The bad part is, it only takes one sick person to infect many others. In most cases that is not so serious but when a flu infects a senior citizen it can be very dangerous.

Now that I am dealing with the effects of a flu, I can imagine what it would be like if something like the Avian Bird flu were to materialize. I have been totally immobilized for an entire week. I could have pushed myself to perform my usual tasks but regular coughing bouts, constant sniffling, headaches and a general weakness has kept me on the couch or in bed most of the time.

The flu has been part of our human history for a long time. Scientists generally think that once we humans started domesticating animals and lived in close contact with them, we put ourselves at risk of developing these diseases. For thousands of years, it was normal for European, Asian and African civilizations to have agriculture and animal domestication as part of life. Over the centuries, pandemics of all sorts came and went, killing people but also leaving survivors behind that became resistant to these diseases. In recent times, three separate pandemics happened in the 1900s, the Spanish Flu of 1918 being the most well known.

A pandemic is caused by the introduction of a new disease into a population that has no natural resistance to the new strain. There have been many instances of this happening throughout recorded history. However, the greatest example might have happened at the turn of the 1500s after the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Imagine what happened when a whole continent of Native people that basically still lived a nomadic lifestyle came into contact with a culture that had contracted and survived through countless epidemics of their own in Europe.

Many estimates have been calculated by experts and scientists. It is generally agreed that millions of Aboriginal peoples died during this period. Influenza was just one of many new diseases that Aboriginal people at this time had to contend with in North and South America with the coming of the Europeans.

In many parts of the world, farmers are still coming into contact with their animals in unhealthy and close quarters and the same transmission and mutation is taking place as it always has. The worry now is that a newly mutated flu virus such as the Avian bird flu could cause a new pandemic.

Our best hope is prevention and caution. Just simple acts, such as washing our hands or staying away from others if we are sick, can help a lot in breaking down the cycle of transmission from one person to another. If anything, slowing down the rate of transmission can help our medical scientists develop a treatment to cure us when we do become sick.

It is amazing in this day and age with our technological marvels, communication technologies, wealth and knowledge, to think that we can be brought down by a microscopic virus that we cannot see. So stay safe and think about others if you have a flu or if you are in contact with people who are sick. A little bit of thought can go a very long way.