Health Watch - Colds and Flu: How Viruses Work

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This week on Health Watch, we’re talking about colds and flu. Winter is peak season for colds and flu. Every year you should prepare by getting a flu shot, but it’s hard to avoid catching a cold. This is because of the way viruses work.

Viruses are relatively simple organisms, and they’re not very good at replicating themselves. That means they mutate easily, and those mutations are why having a cold or the flu once doesn’t protect you forever. The next virus you’re exposed to may be different enough that your immune system isn’t ready for it.

Dr. Richard Scheuermann, a pathologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says that’s why the H1N1 outbreak a couple of years ago was so severe. It wasn’t that the virus made people sicker so much as it was that the virus was so different from the seasonal flu that most people had no resistance to it, and the seasonal flu shot that year provided no protection.

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January 2011


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