The economic impact of influenza annually (not including flu epidemics like the great Spanish Flu of 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968) depends on several factors. These factors include the number of people in high risk groups, the availability of treatment, and the level of prevention practiced by people.
The World Health Organization estimates three to five million severe cases of influenza worldwide annually with up to 500,000 deaths annually. The economic impact of influenza, including both direct and indirect costs, in the United States alone is estimated between $70 billion and $170 billion annually (2003 figures).
High risk groups include people over age 65, young children, and people with chronic or underlying diseases like heart disease. In the case of flu epidemics, high risk groups also include health care and emergency workers.
While most of the deaths occur among the risk group of people over age 65, some of the highest direct costs occur when children need hospitalization. Hospital stays and treatment for seriously ill children can cost from $7,000 U.S. to $40,000 U.S. (Keren, Pediatrics, 2006).
Preventing the flu is the best way to avoid this tremendous personal and economic cost. To help with flu prevention, the Center for Disease Control recommends a flu shot annually unless there are allergies, previous reactions to flu shots, or current illness. They do not recommend flu shots for children under the age of six months.
Additional preventive measures include washing your hands frequently, avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes when around people who have the flu, staying home when you are sick, and avoiding close contact with ill people if possible.
Basic healthy habits will also keep your immune system strong to help fight infections. Eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water, exercise daily, don’t smoke, get sufficient rest, and manage stress levels.
Another way you might prevent the flu is gargling with green tea. Japanese researchers studied elderly patients, a very high risk group, confined to nursing homes (Yamada, Journal Alternative Complementary Medicine, 2006). After all nursing home residents received a flu vaccination, half gargled three times daily with green tea extract and half gargled three times daily without green tea extract. During the three winter months of testing, the green tea extract gargle group had only 1.3% infection and the water gargle group had 10% infection-a reduction of 87%. There’s more information on flu prevention at http://www.green-tea-health-news.com/flu-prevention.html.
Preventing the flu, not only with vaccinations, but also healthy habits, including green tea can help us all to lower the suffering, excessive costs, and economic impact of influenza.