Wichita State News
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Wichita State historian George Dehner has written two books about the flu. His interest in the illness started more than a dozen years ago, and his research has focused on the subject ever since.

Faculty spotlight: George Dehner's flu research

Monday, February 04, 2013

The flu: It’s a popular topic of conversation lately, as most people probably know someone who has gotten sick this winter.

But for Wichita State associate professor George Dehner, the flu is a year-round focus. Dehner, who teaches world and environmental history, recently wrote two books about the flu.

“Influenza: A Century of Science and Public Health Response,” which Dehner said is aimed at the academic market, and “Global Flu and You: A History of Influenza,” a more general book on the subject.

“They’re written for different audiences, but there’s a lot of overlap,” Dehner said.

Dehner received his Ph.D. from Northeastern University and came to Wichita State in 2004 on a visiting professorship. The next year, he changed directions and started on the tenure track.

His interest in influenza research, though, started more than a dozen years ago when reading about the Spanish Flu pandemic of the early 20th century.

“That set me off on my research path, and I’ve been plugging away ever since,” he said.

Separating fact from fiction

Dehner’s focus in both of his books is on the history of the flu and how the public and health officials have responded. He also aims to expose the facts and fiction surrounding the illness.

As for what most of the country is experiencing this season, Dehner is quick to point out that it is not a pandemic, and that most of what people call the flu is in fact something else entirely.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that comes on suddenly, can last a week or more and can include symptoms such as fatigue, fever, cough, runny nose and sore throat.

Vomiting and other stomach problems are not typically seen with the flu, except sometimes in small children.

In terms of the flu itself, this year is a rough one, but nothing to be concerned about – especially if you get your flu shot, Dehner said.

“This is a particularly strong year for influenza, but it’s not out of the realm of normal influenza,” he said. “This particular year just happens to be more transmissible. There’s no way of predicting it.”

Dehner said throughout history, the flu virus has been very changeable and infectious.

“The virus is a remarkable organism,” he said. “It is very changeable, and it’s very infectious, and throughout history it has popped up and impacted in communities repeatedly in greater or lesser volume.”

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Created on Monday, February 04, 2013; Last modified on Friday, February 15, 2013