We will go ahead and be straightforward and recommend that you get your flu shot if you haven’t already, even though the flu season has not been as bad so far!  Although it is the normal time of year for flu, confirmed cases doubled just this month, even though in most states the influenza activity remains regional rather than widespread.  California and Colorado are the only states that report widespread flu activity so far.  Experts are unable to explain why the season has been fairly mild, but it is beginning to circulate, and situations can change at any time.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that this year’s season had the latest official start since 1987-88. 

Shots are still available at public health centers.  The vaccination usually takes about two weeks to become effective.  Some factors that may figure in on why the flu has been kept under control are milder weather, and the fact that more persons took got their immunizations last year.  Ones who are more susceptible to catch influenza are children under 6 months, older patients, and those who have underlying chronic illnesses.  Physicians also state that flu is unpredictable, and there’s many things about the flu that are puzzling to them, as well. 

Many persons confuse symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach or intestinal problems to be influenza.  Seasonal flu normally is a respiratory disease, and not one of the stomach or intestines.  Most persons are contagious from one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after symptoms disappear.  Young children and those who have weakened immune systems may be contagious longer.  The illness lasts usually one to two weeks.  Please stay at home if you are ill, until you are sure you are no longer contagious.  Germs are spread through coughs, sneezes, and droplets in the air, and also any germs on surfaces that persons may touch.  That is why “washing your hands” is preached so often!  Keep some hand sanitizer in your car or purse, so you can clean your hands every time you return to your car from shopping or running errands.

Hundreds of thousands of people each year are hospitalized with influenza.  Between 3,000 and 40,000 people die during any influenza season, depending on the strain that’s circulating, according to Jeffrey Duchin, M.D.  He is chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Immunization Section at Seattle & King County Public Health.  Dr. Duchin says “This is a serious health problem for both adults and children, yet  it’s preventable.  There’s a way to avoid unnecessary doctor’s visits, to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and to avoid hospitalization – through vaccination.”  Complications from influenza include bacterial pneumonia, ear/sinus infections, and dehydration, especially for persons with chronic health problems. 

As we know from the past, influenza strains are worldwide – no country is immune from it.  The H1N1 pandemic of 2009 taught  much about the importance of vaccines and staying out of the public when we are sick.  The H1N1 virus was a very deadly strain, causing  a global disease outbreak.  Let’s hope this time of the year brings the lowest figures ever regarding influenza.  Each person can help prevent it through innoculation, and staying home when ill in order not to expose others to illnesses we may have.