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Methodist Hospital opened its doors 100 years ago at a time when the deadliest flu pandemic of 1918 was sweeping the world with staggering results. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide that year, one third of the world’s entire population. The flu pandemic led to the death of an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Locally, in Memphis, over 1,000 people died from the flu.
The flu season started early in 1918 when people began showing symptoms of this particularly deadly strain of the flu, also known as Spanish Influenza. Today, patients experience the same symptoms patients experienced 100 years ago. Those symptoms include the quick onset of fever, chills, and aches and pains.
“Symptoms of the flu haven’t changed,” said Dr. Jeff Harris, medical director for the Emergency Department at Methodist University Hospital. “While many flu sufferers experience fairly mild symptoms, what can make the flu so dangerous even today is that it can attack cells and tissues which can lead to organ failure and, in some cases, even death. For instance, injured brain tissue can lead to confusion. If the lungs are affected, it can lead to pneumonia. It is a critical situation when multiple organs are not functioning.”
Some aspects of flu treatment remain the same as what Methodist could offer in the year its first hospital opened, and some advances have emerged that have significantly improved treatment. In the early 20th century oxygen therapy was cutting edge technology. Even today, we use oxygen therapy when patients need extra support for damaged lungs.
“Fortunately, we now have more resources to help support the function of organs that are damaged, and we have better medications to treat secondary infections,” Dr. Harris explained. “We are also able to treat flu with Tamiflu which specifically targets the flu virus to keep it from spreading. Tamiflu also helps reduce the severity of flu symptoms.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS YEAR’S FLU STRAIN
HOW TO PREVENT THE FLU
Doctors can’t stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated.
“It is true that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, however it is the best tool we have to lessen the symptoms and severity of this potentially deadly illness,” said Dr. Harris.
He says the second most important thing to do is wash your hands. “You touch the door knob that someone has sneezed on and the next thing you know, you’ve got the flu.”
An important thing to keep in mind is that people are infectious the day before they develop symptoms and start to feel bad.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET THE FLU
See your primary care physician or visit a minor medical center if you think you might have the flu. Tamiflu can help you recover from the flu faster, but you need to take Tamilflu within 48 hours of getting sick in order for it to work.
This year Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare celebrates its centennial. The six-hospital system marks a century of innovations and a dedication to the future of medicine.