And the answer: flu.
The word "influenza" has Italian origins by way of the Medieval Latin word influentia, meaning "influence," and was not shortened to "the flu" until the early 19th century. Yearly flu shots prevent about 7.5 million illnesses, 3.7 million doctor visits, 105,000 hospital stays, and 6,300 deaths.
The flu rolls around like clockwork each year as the cold season begins, and impressively has done so for (more or less) 1,500 years. Some of the first reports of an influenza-like illness spreading across northern Greece came from none other than Hippocrates himself, back in the 5th century BCE. Centuries later, a flu epidemic swept across Florence, Italy, and earned the name influenza di freddo, or “cold influence,” as the good people of Florence believed the cold weather was its origin. Other flu epidemics made their way around Africa, Europe, and Asia, until ultimately the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic broke every record, and reaped the lives of over 50 million people.
Modern day influenza comes in several different variants, though not all affect humans. This contagious respiratory illness can range from anything like a sore throat and runny nose to hospitalization and serious complications. Thankfully, though, modern medicine has evolved such that flu vaccines are readily available each fall, and protect effectively against both of the most common types of influenza.
Did you know?
This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week! From December 5-9, Vaccination Week events promote the importance of vaccinating yourself against influenza. Since flu viruses are constantly changing—and that’s not to mention that protection from vaccination decreases over time—getting a flu vaccine every year is the best way to prevent flu. Flu vaccines are the only ones that protect against—and are proven to reduce the risk of—flu illness, hospitalization, or worse. Learn more about this year’s events here.