Flu season is here. It has hit hard and it has hit fast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is calling this flu outbreak an epidemic after finding widespread cases across the country. Thomas M. Menino, mayor of Boston recently declared a public health emergency after hospitals were overflowing with flu patients. At least 700 cases of the flu have been recorded in Boston along with four flu-related deaths.
In Rochester, NY, at least 225 people have been hospitalized with the flu, with eight deaths. Pennsylvania has recorded at least 11,000 cases of the flu, including at least 22 deaths. Florida is being categorized as having widespread flu, along with 46 other states, but Orange County, FL, records showed the same number of cases two weeks in a row. Some local hospitals in Chicago have had to divert ambulances to other hospitals because they are inundated with flu patients in the emergency rooms. According to the CDC, the Great Lakes Region has been the hardest hit with 60 percent of the people checked for the flu testing positive.
The CDC issued a new report yesterday confirming widespread flu in 47 states in the week ending January 5. That’s up from 41 states the week before. The strain that is affecting people is the H3N2 strain. This year’s flu vaccine, according to the CDC, is 55 percent effective against A strains of the flu. These strains are responsible for most of the illnesses and the more severe cases. The vaccine is about 70 percent effective against the B strains, historically less serious overall.
The CDC urges those who have not yet been vaccinated, to do so. It’s not too late. The shot, once you have received it, takes about two weeks to become effective.
There are some precautions that can be taken to reduce your risk of getting the flu. Wash your hands often. The flu germs can live on hard surfaces up to 48 hours. It is recommended that you try not to touch your face if you have touched a hard surface, especially in public areas. If someone in your family gets sick, keep them away from other, and try to stay away from those who are sick. Be sure to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.
If you do come down with the flu, see your doctor immediately. There are antiviral medications that can be prescribed, such as Tamiflu. These drugs, available only with a prescription, are most effective if started within two days of getting sick, but are still effective after that.
To see how widespread the flu is in your state, consult Google Flu Trends.