According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 36,000 Americans die from influenza, the common, seasonal flu, each year.
Risks increase for pregnant women, children, seniors and people with disease or weakened immune systems, but people living in poverty face even greater problems. For the 23 million Americans living in Appalachia, a thousand-mile stretch that goes from southern New York to northeast Mississippi, cold and flu season is a dangerous time of year.
Most healthy people recover from the flu with soup and a few days' bed rest. But poor nutrition compromises the immune system. Currently, 23 percent of the people living in Appalachia do not get enough food.
To survive, the rural poor skip meals, seek help from food pantries and foodstamp programs, and choose the cheapest foods available. Inadequate nutrition and long gaps between meals strain the body, making it more likely that a common virus, like the flu, will pose real danger.
Appalachians also lack access to the healthcare that keeps wealthier Americans healthy through cold and flu season. The CDC recommends that pregnant women, people over 50 and children between 6 months and 19 years old all receive flu vaccinations. Appalachians cannot access or afford such preventative measures.
When they do fall ill, they might not receive life-saving emergency care.