2011-2012 Flu Season: So Far, So Good
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flu prevalence maps indicate flu season is off to a slow start. But don’t be complacent: Flu activity most often peaks during the month of FEBRUARY.
Flu Season is Unpredictable
In the U.S., on average, 5 -20% of the population gets the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. According to CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Just because you have never had the flu doesn’t mean you won’t get it this year.
Flu Risk by Zip Code?
One study correlated the percentage of children in a given zip code with the risk of ending up in the Emergency Room with the flu. Preventing the spread of flu in children may be an important factor in slowing a flu epidemic. Experts recommend that everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccination each year.
According to CDC, the best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year. As of November, 2011, only approximately 36% of Americans age six months and older had obtained a flu vaccination (CDC). Most individuals are vaccinated in doctor’s offices; other popular locations are other healthcare settings, pharmacies and stores, and the workplace.
The 2011-2012 vaccine is a three-component vaccine that protects against each of three main groups of influenza viruses currently circulating in humans. According to CDC, based on a recommendation from the World Health Organization, the Northern Hemisphere’s 2011-2012 seasonal influenza vaccine contains the following three vaccine viruses:
An A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
An A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus
A B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
A Reason to Practice Flu Prevention
On average, flu-related complications claim 36,000 lives each year in the US in one study, according to CDC. These rates can range from a low of approximately 3,000 deaths to a high of about 49,000 deaths according to another study. Anyone can get the flu, but some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. These include: people 65 years and older; people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (e.g., asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women and young children.
Flu or Cold?
Flu and cold are not the same. Use this interactive chart of symptoms to help you distinguish flu from cold.
Tips for Preventing 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.
A Germ-busting Solution to Disinfect Frequently Touched Surfaces:
- Add ¼ cup of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of cool water.
- Mix and apply to frequently touched surfaces.
- Leave wet for 10 minutes.
Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.