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By Terry Bourke

APIA, Samoa (February 1, 2000 – Samoa Observer)---Samoa is experiencing a small influenza (flu) outbreak.

That’s according to Dr. J. Ainuu at the National Hospital and Dr. J. Adams of Medcen.

The number of cases increased about four to six weeks ago and is now on the decrease. It is mainly the young adults who have been affected.

Flu attacks people of all ages and is caused by a virus. There are many different strains or types of the flu virus, which can easily mutate or form a new type of flu and this is the problem.

When we catch the flu, we will build up an immunity, an ability to resist that particular flu type, but this immunity will not stop us catching a new type that may be introduced from overseas or develop locally.

It is one of the oldest and most common diseases of man. It can also be fatal.

Influenza was first described by Hippocrates in 412 BC, and the first well described pandemic or country or worldwide occurrence of the disease was in 1580.

Since then, 31 possible influenza pandemics have been recorded, with three during the 20th century: in 1918, 1957 and 1968.

When pandemics occur, death from flu can be staggering. For example, during the "Spanish Flu" pandemic of 1918-1920, 20 million people died out of 500 million who caught it.

This strain of flu was also introduced to Samoa in 1918 and caused a large number of deaths. And this was when the world population was less than half of what it is now.

The pandemics of 1957 ("Asian flu") and 1968 ("Hong Kong flu") were caused by a different type of flu virus. Both killed more than 1.5 million people and caused an estimated (US)$32 billion in economic damages worldwide due to productivity losses and medical expenses.

There is evidence that the flu viruses which caused these pandemics came originally from animals to man (1918 = pigs, 1957 and 1968 = birds).

In 1976, a new flu virus from pigs caused human flu and severe illness, while in 1997-1998, an outbreak of flu that came from poultry occurred in Hong Kong, where it killed one child and infected 15 others.

Prior to this it had only been found in various birds, including chickens and ducks. It was first discovered in terns in South Africa in 1961 and can be deadly to chickens.

The present flu type in Samoa has not been typed. Flu is highly contagious and is spread from person to person by droplets coughed or sneezed out by people with the flu to all healthy people who are near.

It is important that those with the flu should cover their mouths with a hankie or cloth when sneezing or coughing to stop these droplets from spreading the disease. People with flu usually experience headaches, feel drowsy, tired, chilly or have shivering attacks, backaches and muscle and joint pains. They may lose their appetite, sometimes feel sick and possibly vomit and have sore throats.

The doctors commented that the present flu is giving people an upper respiratory infection with some or all of the flu symptoms. Treatment should be to rest as much as possible, take plenty of fluids, paracetamol as necessary and if their sickness gets worse or complications develop see their doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Ainuu said that American Samoa had experienced a large number of cases in December of last year.

He said during our wet season, some Samoans usually catch flu every year.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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