MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 12, 2017: A man is being examined to get a flu vaccine at a mobile centre for flu vaccination by Belorusskaya Station of the Moscow Metro. Mobile flu vaccination centres are to be open daily for two months; all Moscow residents can get flu vaccination for free. Vladimir Gerdo/TASS (Photo by Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images)

Work hard, play hard. This is the typical American mindset: prioritizing work over all other aspects of life. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week. For many Americans, this workload is often necessary, as the average cost of living and the affordability of healthcare remains out of reach for many people. The overworked behavior pattern can be disastrous when it contributes to the spread of communicable diseases.

America isn't at her healthiest on a number of fronts.

America is currently in the midst of many epidemics: a mass shooting epidemic, an opioid epidemic and a flu epidemic. All three pose significant risks. 2018 has been a particularly bad year for the flu. In fact, it has been so bad that it is nearly record-breaking in terms of hospital visits. In the first three weeks in January, 24 children have died as a result of the flu, with a total of 37 fatalities since the beginning of the season. The season’s flu is particularly bad, for a plethora of reasons. According to USA Today, “Both influenza A and B strains are circulating at the same time, when one usually dominates early in the season with the other coming on late. Also, flu vaccines are less effective than expected. And one strain of the flu, H3N2, is particularly virulent, making people sicker and sometimes causing an intense reaction from the body's immune system, during which the lungs can become inflamed and airways can be blocked by mucus and more.”

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As bad as this year’s flu epidemic has been, at least in the United States, most of us rest easy knowing that deadlier and nastier mass-murdering pathogens such as bubonic plague and smallpox live mostly in our collective memory. Or do they? As climate change melts longstanding permafrost, some scientists fear that “zombie pathogens,” which have been slumbering for centuries, might be waking up, threatening to overtake humanity again.

Permafrost refers to a layer of permanently frozen earth—it has to be frozen for a minimum of two years to qualify—found primarily in most continually frosty parts of the world such as the Arctic Circle, Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. According to National Geographic, there are some 22.8 million square miles of permafrost in the world. Research has shown that Earth's permafrost heated up by 6 degrees Celsius during the 20th century and scientists predict even more dramatic melting by 2100. Not only will this raise ocean levels and exacerbate erosion, it may also mean a release of pathogens better left frozen.

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Andie Vaught, 25, grasps a stress toy in the shape of a truck as she prepares to have her blood drawn by phlebotomist Catina Boyd as part of a clinical trial for a Zika vaccine at the National Institute of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, November 21, 2016. (Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Each year, the epidemiology community keeps a close eye on the flu, a virus that is famous for mutating and changing in its severity and ability to spread. This year is an especially auspicious year for contemplating influenza: 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 killed millions of people around the world. Studying these viruses can alert the medical and scientific communities in time to stop such an outbreak from devastating humanity again.

However, studying viruses can be a tricky business. In 2014, University of Wisconsin flu experts created a “mutant” version of the 1918 flu virus, and discovered that strains of the original 1918 version still exist in the environment. Since even the strictest lab protocols can’t promise that such a virus won’t escape, this development sparked debate which prompted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to issue a moratorium on continued studies on infectious diseases. Scientists argued that if we don’t study viruses, we won’t understand how to combat them when they inevitably occur in human and agricultural populations.

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Despite pharmacy warnings and advertisements everywhere, over half of the U.S. still avoids the flu shot every year.

There are plenty of reasons to avoid a shot that may or may not even prevent the flu — fear of needles, fatigue and muscle aches are just a few deterrents from going through with the shot. A person may even remain unvaccinated and avoid getting sick out of sheer luck.

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[DIGEST: NBC, CNN, CIDRAP,  Tech Insider, CDC]

When FluMist hit the market in 2003, parents rejoiced. They could protect their children from the potentially deadly influenza virus without subjecting them to the needle. But now it turns out the popular alternative, which is administered via nose spray, doesn’t get the job done. The CDC reports that FluMist does not protect against flu, and is making the recommendation that parents vaccinate their children using the traditional injectable flu vaccine this year. Last year, more than 146 million Americans were vaccinated against the flu. The FluMist option accounts for about a third of all flu vaccines given to children every year.

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