What you don’t know about the flu could seriously harm yourself or someone you love. The flu virus is a real epidemic this winter and has been affecting many people I know from up the James Bay coast and around my circle of friends in northern Ontario. People are getting sick and in most cases I am hearing this recent flu is severe and long lasting.

The flu, or influenza, was first identified in the 1930s, and since then has been classified into types A, B and C, with A being the most serious and most prevalent. The flu is an acute respiratory infection caused by a variety of influenza viruses. Flu usually occurs during the winter. Twenty to 50 percent of the population may be affected by the flu, and the highest incidents are with five to 14-year-olds. So families with school children are more likely to get the flu. The flu is very contagious so schools are a natural place for transmission.

The real danger with flu is in the serious effects it has on the very old, the very young and people with compromised immune systems. Viruses that cause flu spread from person to person mainly by coughing and sneezing or though something as simple as shaking hands. After a person has been affected by the flu virus, symptoms usually appear within two to four days and the infection is usually considered infectious for two to four days after symptoms appear. It is difficult to protect the old and the very young from contagious people because the flu can be spread by someone whose symptoms are not yet apparent.

Once a person has the flu, treatment usually consists of resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids and taking medication such as aspirin to relieve fever and discomfort. Antibiotics are not affective against flu viruses. The real problem with the flu has to do with complications that can arise from bacterial infections in the lower respiratory tract, which can result in pneumonia and sometimes infections like staphylococci, streptococci and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

Elderly people are very susceptible to the flu and because their immune systems generally weakened with age; they are also in danger of complications. I am especially concerned for our First Nation communities, which are closely knit. We as First Nation people tend to mix a lot through visits and gatherings, and I don’t think we know a lot about health dangers such as the flu. Many of our Elders get very sick and some pass away with serious flu. I think it is important to remind everyone that when a flu is circulating in our community we should take great caution in dealing with our elderly and the very young. If you have been in contact with people with the flu or you yourself have flu symptoms, make a point to stay away from the elderly and the very young. If you are in their presence don’t have body contact with them as in shaking hands, kissing and hugging, and try to stay away from the immediate area where your coughing could infect them.

If you have been in contact with people with the flu or you have flu symptoms, do your grandfather, grandmother or great-uncle or great-aunt a favour and stay away from them for a while. Don’t visit nursing homes and try to stay away from contact with the public where you can spread the flu.

I realize that this kind of caution is difficult for most First Nation people, as we are very social – we like to visit and attend events. Some little precautions and awareness could help keep a serious flu away from an elderly person or a very young one whom we love. So here’s hoping you don’t get the flu and if you do get it you will try your best not to pass it along to anyone else.