Influenza ? a term denoting one of the most commonly known diseases in the world. It?s a disease that can affect people in all age groups, and all corners of the world. In the absence of timely treatment, influenza may cause moderate to severe illness, hospitalization, and even death. A 1918 global epidemic of influenza caused over 20 million deaths worldwide. Influenza ? commonly known as flu -- is one of the oldest and most common diseases known to man. It?s a respiratory tract infection that affect millions of people everywhere. Thousands die of related complications each year. The disease occurs mainly during late fall, winter, or early spring.

But for all its contagiousness, experts say influenza is both predictable and preventable. Dr. Klaus Stohr heads the global influenza program at the world health organization. He says the mortality rate of the disease remains high because victims generally misunderstand the symptoms.

He says, "Very many people think that influenza is a type of common cold, running nose and a little bit of fever which one can sleep off, but unfortunately this is not the case. a virus causes influenza, it leads to five to six days of reduced physical activity. Most people are really severely ill for three to four days, three or more days of absenteeism from work place and school is normal and almost every second case requires medical care."

Health experts recommend vaccination as the best method of preventing influenza. The WHO recommends that governments begin vaccination campaign prior to the winter season. It says vaccination priority should be given to those more at risk. Dr. Stohr says for those in the high risk category, a vaccine could mean the difference between life and death.

He says, "The real problem with influenza are those people who have complications from the disease. we know that round about one hundred and seventy thousand people in the developed world alone die from influenza every year. these are mainly people who are over sixty-five, patients with underlying chronic diseases, people who suffer from cardio-vascular diseases, from diseases of the gastro-interstinal tracts, with asthma, or who have diabetes. they have a very high risk of dying from influenza, which is not the case with most healthy adults."

Dr. Stohr says the WHO has recommended several varieties of vaccine to be produced this year to compliment the widely used panama strain. These include the New Caledonia strain, the Moscow and B ? Hong Kong types. Dr. Stohr says influenza is not limited to cooler areas of the world, but is a growing problem in developing nations.

He says, "Unfortunately it is not only a problem of temperate regions, europe, japan and north america, we had a call two months ago from the ministry of health from madagascar. They observed a very high increase in numbers of respiratory diseases and a team from WHO which investigated the outbreak and helped the ministry of health, established that more than eight hundred people died from influenza in a relatively short period of time. Fifty percent of those who died were children below the age of four. so influenza is a very severe health problem also in developing countries."

He says vaccines are the most proven means of protection against influenza. dr, stohr says available vaccines are also safe for children who are listed in the high risk category.