According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36,000 Americans die each year from influenza, the common and seasonal flu. People living in poverty are at greater risk than those who are pregnant, have children or are elderly. Cold and flu season can be dangerous for the 23 million Americans who live in Appalachia (a 1,000-mile stretch stretching from southern New York to northeast Mississippi).

A few days of rest and soup are enough to help most people with the flu. Poor nutrition can compromise the immune system. Appalachia’s current population is 23 percent without enough food. Rural poor people eat less, avoid meals and seek assistance from food pantries or foodstamp programs to survive. They also choose to eat the most expensive foods. The body is more vulnerable to common viruses like the flu if it has poor nutrition or long gaps between meals.

Appalachians don’t have the same access to healthcare as wealthy Americans during flu season. According to the CDC, pregnant women and people over 50 should all get flu shots. Appalachians are unable to access or afford these preventative measures. If they are ever seriously ill, they may not receive emergency medical care.

Organizations are working together to improve rural access to healthcare. Americans Helping Americans (AHA) created the Emergency Medical Assistance Program in order to offer a safety net for Appalachians in need. It provides emergency medical care, regular medication, eye exams and dental care. AHA delivered more than 1.2 Million pounds of healthy food to over 13,000 people in the last year. AHA also provided over $25,000 worth of prescriptions, eye exams, and glasses for the elderly.

AHA also provides nutritious staples to local food banks – not the fatty foods which can cause malnutrition but fill our stomachs. Organizations can stop the spread of flu virus among nation’s most vulnerable citizens only if they address their overall health.

For more information, please visit