Despite what you may have heard, flu season is off to a pretty typical start. Some people are concerned about recent reports that the 2009 pandemic strain (H1N1) is prevalent in the United States. The presence of this virus is not unexpected. After a flu pandemic runs its course, the offending virus usually hangs around and becomes part of the “new normal.” That is why when this season’s flu vaccine was formulated, protection against 2009 H1N1 was included; A/California/7/2009(H1N1), to be exact. Other vaccine components this year include A(H3N2) Victoria/361/2011 and B/Massachusetts/2/2012. If you were lucky enough to find the new quadrivalent (4-strain) vaccine, you received protection against an additional flu B virus; B/Brisbane/60/2008.
Recent reports of flu deaths are making people nervous. The hard truth is, every year many Americans die of flu complications; most of them over the age of 65. You may recall that during the pandemic, H1N1 took a larger than expected toll on children, young adults, and pregnant women. The fact that we are now seeing some H1N1 flu deaths in children and young adults is unfortunately, not unexpected.
The best way to prevent yourself and your loved ones from getting flu is to get vaccinated. If you haven’t yet done this, now is the time. Some people believe that because they are young and healthy, they do not need a flu shot. Recent reports of flu deaths in the media punctuate just how risky this type of thinking can be. Others feel that because they have never gotten flu in previous seasons, they are somehow exempt for life. This is akin to not wearing a seat belt because you have never been in a car accident. There is a first time for everything.
There are many other ways to lower your risk of getting sick this flu season. Frequent hand washing is extremely important. When you get home from the grocery store; wash your hands. When your child returns home from school; have him wash his hands. Before you eat; wash your hands. You get the idea. Actively avoid people who appear sick; the person in the next booth with a husky cough; the fussy toddler with the runny nose in the check-out line. Stay home if you are sick yourself. Cover your coughs and sneezes (not with your hands!), eat right, drink a lot of fluids, and get plenty of rest. If you think you have the flu, let your doctor know. There are medications that can decrease the severity and length of illness.
Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of individuals who have lost their lives to flu. Flu shots are not infallible, but they are still the best method we have to prevent contracting a serious illness that kills. If you are on the fence about flu shots, get off and get one!