Flu Snapshot: As of February, 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports seasonal flu activity is elevated nationally, but rates vary from place to place, rising in some areas, declining in others. Flu activity, which usually peaks in January or February, is expected to continue for several more weeks.
Has Flu Spread to Your Area? The color-coded map below from the CDC website estimates the geographic distribution of flu activity in the United States. The map does not indicate the severity of flu.
How Severe is the Flu this Year? As one indicator of flu severity, for the week ending February 1, CDC reported the national proportion of people seeing their health care provider for flu-like illness decreased slightly, but remains above the national baseline. More detail is available on the CDC Seasonal Influenza website.
How Important is the Flu Vaccine? Getting a flu vaccine is the most important thing you can do to prevent getting the flu. It is not too late to get a flu vaccine, especially if you live in an area with increased flu activity. CDC estimates 70,000 flu hospitalizations were prevented by vaccinations in the 2012-2013 flu season. That’s enough people to fill an NFL stadium! Not sure where to get a flu shot? This HealthMap Vaccine Finder could help.
How Effective is this Year’s Flu Vaccine? Each year, the effectiveness of the vaccine depends on how well matched it is to circulating flu viruses. According to the CDC website, this year’s flu vaccine is made from three viruses that health experts predicted will be prevalent: Influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. So far this year, data reported to CDC show more than half of patients who tested positive for influenza for the period January 12 through February 1, 2014 tested positive for the same variety of the H1N1 virus added to the vaccine.
Want to Learn More about the Flu? Check out our “Handy Tips to Help Prevent the Flu” below and take the CDC interactive “Flu I.Q.” quiz to raise your “Flu I.Q.”
Handy Tips to Help Prevent the Flu:
Avoid crowds if flu is prevalent in your area.
Best to get vaccinated early!
Cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing.
Disinfect frequently touched surfaces to prevent the spread of germs.*
Encourage others to stay home if they have the flu, and you do the same.
Frequently wash hands for 15-20 seconds at a time to help prevent the spread of germs.
*Mix up an inexpensive germ-busting solution by adding ¼ cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. Apply the solution to frequently touched surfaces, leaving wet for 10 minutes. Rinse with plain water.
Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.