What's New with the Flu This Season?
The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus has been on many people's minds lately, especially since the World Health Organization designated it a global pandemic. The virus was originally known as "swine flu" because it had many genes in common with a similar influenza virus found in pigs in North America. However, scientists have discovered that the virus is actually very different from the one that normally affects pigs.
2009 H1N1 has spread to all 50 states and more than 70 countries. That may sound scary, but keep in mind that most people in the United States who have gotten the virus have recovered fully without medical treatment.
With all the attention that 2009 H1N1 is getting, it's easy to forget that "traditional" flu season is just around the corner. Outbreaks can occur as early as October and peak during the winter months. In the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 die every year because of flu-related complications.
So how can you protect yourself and your family from the 2009 H1N1 flu as well as seasonal flu?
Keep Germs Away
Scientists have found several similarities between the 2009 H1N1 flu virus and seasonal flu. For instance, symptoms of both include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Many people diagnosed with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus have also reported diarrhea and vomiting.
Seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 appear to spread in the same way: from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Therefore, follow these precautions to avoid both:
Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw the tissue away.
Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners work, too.
To prevent the spread of germs, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Avoid sick people as much as possible.
Your Best Shot Against Flu
The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from seasonal flu, but that vaccine won't offer protection against 2009 H1N1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several 2009 H1N1 vaccines, and they are currently offered in some states for certain people. Ask your doctor if the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine is available. If it is, your doctor can tell you if you should receive the vaccine. People should receive this vaccine in addition to the regular flu shot, not instead of it.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.