Microbiologist Catherine Bender Smith Discusses Influenza

April 13, 2010


Microbiologist Catherine Bender Smith presented "Influenza: The once and future threat" during convocation on Thursday, October 16.




Catherine Bender Smith

Catherine Bender Smith


Bender Smith, who is a graduate of Mount Union College and currently is a microbiologist with the National Center for Infectious Diseases, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, gave historical perspectives on where influenza came from and its effect on people worldwide. The disease began in Europe, North and South America and spread throughout the world.

Bender Smith noted that influenza is a notable disease because of its tendency to be widespread over a short period of time. Influenza has caused epidemics and pandemics. An epidemic is described as an outbreak of a disease that slowly spreads through a town or country. In order for a disease to be considered epidemic, it must meet three criteria. It must be able to affect the human population, be unique and be transmissible between humans. A pandemic is described as an outbreak that spreads throughout the world quickly.

She spoke of the 1918 flu pandemic in France where 24 million people died. In addition to this occurrence in France, there were two other flu pandemics during this century. Every year, there are 36,000 deaths due to influenza.

Influenza is a seasonal disease in North America. Influenza season starts in October, peaks in January and is over by May, with symptoms including coughing, runny nose, sore throat and extreme fatigue. It is airborne disease. If a person with the disease sneezes or coughs into the air, others can be exposed and infected.

So can influenza be prevented? Bender Smith offered information about a vaccine that is 90% effective in young people. She disputed the myth that people can get influenza from taking an influenza vaccine. "The disease could already be present in your body," she said. "The virus takes one to two weeks to develop." She recommended that everyone get a yearly vaccine.

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