To our towns, to our cities; capable of killing the old, the sick and the vulnerable. A virus so contagious that experts say its spread is inevitable. A sneeze, a cough, a kiss. Thousands will be affected. Most will suffer high fever, nausea, joint pain, chills.
No, it’s not Ebola or the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). It’s a virus to which we’ve grown accustomed but not immune; a disease that visits annually but generates fewer headlines than its impact might suggest.
We’re talking about influenza. Every year thousands of people in Europe catch a flu virus. If they are fortunate, they spend several very unpleasant days in bed – missing work or school – but make a full recovery.
Others find themselves in hospital due to the severity of their symptoms or because they suffer from a pre-existing chronic disease. Older people are also at higher risk of being badly affected.
Of course, it’s not just older people or those with chronic illnesses who are advised to have the flu vaccine. Pregnant women are a priority, according to the WHO, because flu infection is linked to premature birth and lower birth weight in babies.
Children too are a target group in most countries. In England, for example, a pilot project was launched last year aimed at immunising children against the flu. Not only can this protect the children who are vaccinated, it can also help to curb the spread of the virus in the wider community.
Just about everyone can have the flu vaccine (with some exceptions that your doctor can discuss with you). Will you protect yourself this year?