Along with the miserable symptoms the flu brings, it throws households into chaos, causes lengthy absences from school and work, and spoils vacation plans. And while most victims are up and around in a week or so, the flu sends a surprising number of people in this country -- more than 100,000 -- to the hospital each year. More surprising still: About a third of them don't come home.
A runaway case of influenza can develop into a more serious illness, such as pneumonia. For older adults and people with chronic health problems, such as asthma, the flu can lead to life-threatening complications.
The infamous Spanish Flu of 1918 killed 20 million people worldwide. There have been two other pandemics (epidemics that spread over huge geographical areas) since then, in 1957 and 1968. Experts say another pandemic is inevitable, though no one can say when it will hit. But whether there's an international influenza outbreak this season or not, you can count on this much: The flu will strike someone, somewhere, in your town or city this winter.