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Flu season continues to cause rise in hospitalizations

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The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that far more people under the age of 65 are being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms than last year. This year's strain appears to be causing severe illness in the adult section of the population that in years past seemed more able to fight off the effects. Jason McDonald, a spokesperson for the CDC, elaborates that more people between the ages of 18 and 64 have been hospitalized for flu-like symptoms this season than in prior years. The predominant strain being reported is H1N1, and even though it has been on the radar since 2009, epidemiologists still can only speculate as to why H1N1 hits younger people hard. There are several different strains of the flu, all of which get diagnosed and reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though the flu season hasn’t yet reached epidemic levels, there have been outbreaks of some of the deadliest flu strains. Lyn Finelli, head of the influenza surveillance and outbreak response team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says of the current numbers, "That's way above the norm for flu," and reports that the deaths are caused by a strain of the influenza virus that is sending sufferers across the nation to the doctor for flu-like symptoms at rates that are 50 percent higher than normal.

Since 2009, annual flu vaccines have offered some protection from the H1N1 strain. The vaccine could help limit the risk of another pandemic, but early flu outbreaks indicate that the vaccine is not enough. Although over-the-counter medications and early detection and care by a physician can make flu symptoms less severe, a recent study found that much of the population actively helps spread the flu by leaving the house before they’ve kicked the virus, thus spreading the contagion to others. Just because you feel “better” doesn’t mean you are no longer a health risk to others.

Whether or not you have been vaccinated, aren't able to get the vaccine, or choose not to, it is important to be aware that there are things you can do to help reduce the risk of catching, and spreading, the flu.

Stay home when you are sick. You are more likely to catch the flu if you are already sick with a cold or other illness. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick to keep yourself and others well. Keep your system healthy by getting plenty of sleep and drinking plenty of fluids.

Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of any illness to others. Wash your hands even after using a tissue.

Keep your hands washed and away from your face. The flu virus easily enters the body when you touch a contaminated surface and transfer the virus to the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Avoid close contact. Flu spreads easily; avoid close contact with those who are ill. If you are sick, avoid contact with others to keep them well. If outbreaks of the flu, especially H1N1, have occurred in your area, take extra precautions.

Take special precautions if you are pregnant, or you share close quarters with someone who is pregnant. Pregnancy can change the immune system in the mother, and affect the heart and lungs. This raises the risk of medical complications in pregnant women who get the flu, and makes hospitalization more likely. Early vaccination is especially important for expectant mothers who already have existing medical problems.

Don’t wait to see a doctor if you have signs of the flu. Doctors sometimes use antiviral medications to treat the flu, like Tamiflu and Relenza, and doctors note that the people who benefit the most are the ones who start promptly (within 48 hours) after symptoms.

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