Flu season is approaching. In the U.S., the flu season usually peaks in January or February, but it can sometimes start as early as October (or earlier) and end as late as May.
Each year in the U.S., anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die from influenza. While most of the deaths are in those older than 64, the second highest number occurs in those under 2.
Young children are just as likely to be hospitalized with the flu as seniors.
Influenza is caused by two main types of influenza virus, A and B. Each type contains a number of different strains because the viruses are good at changing themselves around by recombining and mutating.
One of the most important ways to help prevent influenza is to get a flu shot. It is now recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that everyone 6 months and older should get the influenza vaccine.
Each year, World Health Organization officials look at data and make their best guess as to which strains of influenza virus will be circulating during the upcoming season.
A vaccine is then made using two of the influenza A strains and one of the B strains.
Even if the WHO guesses incorrectly, the flu vaccine will still sometimes protect us because the strain circulating is “close enough” to the one in the vaccine.
Most flu vaccine is made from killed strains of the influenza virus. Redness and soreness at the injection site can follow a flu shot.
Some people suffer brief muscle aches and fever, but this is not really “the flu” because the viruses in the vaccine are dead.
Live flu vaccine, made from weakened influenza strains, is squirted up the nose and can cause brief cold symptoms.
This vaccine can be given to those who are 2 years old or older and are otherwise healthy.
To help prevent the flu, sick people should be avoided, and people sick with the flu should stay home from school or work until they have had no fever for at least 24 hours.
Washing your hands often is also helpful.
Antiviral drugs can help decrease the severity and length of symptoms.
These drugs are used in those who are at high risk for hospitalization with influenza — pregnant women, young children, those 65 years or older, and those with certain chronic health conditions.
Unfortunately, some strains of influenza have already become resistant to some antiviral medications, and there can be shortages of some of these medications.
In other words, prevention is the way to go when it comes to the flu.