Flu Vaccinations Urged; Virus Spreads

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The flu is spreading quickly this season with a big increase in the disease in the past couple of weeks, according to the Gila County Health Department. Nearly half of the United States is reporting widespread influenza activity, mostly linked to the H1N1 virus. The flu season in the U.S. typically lasts from October to March, which means the peak months are at hand.

The county health officials have urged people to get flu shots, with rough months ahead.

Gila County does not yet have any confirmed flu cases. However, health officials the last full week of December confirmed 167 new cases, most in Maricopa (62), Pima (50) and Graham (30) counties. In fact, only Gila and LaPaz counties have had no reported flu activity in the last three full weeks of 2013.

Hitting younger people hard

The flu virus has forced the hospitalizations of critically ill victims. That’s why doctors urge families to get flu shots now as the disease goes … well, viral. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect a “severe” flu season, with young people hit harder than in years past. Colder temperatures over such a large part of the country are keeping folks cooped up in close quarters, which means germs will spread quickly.

“With this strain of flu threatening the young, it’s imperative families get a flu shot; it’s the best way to reduce your risk of catching the virus,” says D. Bruce Irwin, M.D., owner and founder of American Family Care centers. 

“Based on what we’re seeing so far, this flu will be very different than last year. We expect to see many more flu cases in younger children and younger and middle-aged adults.”

Flu strikes new victims

Last year, the dominant flu strain was H3N2, which tended to hit older people.   

This year, the predominant flu strain in the U.S. is H1N1, the same virus that caused the international pandemic in 2009-2010. That flu hit younger children, and younger and middle-aged adults. The CDC estimates 284,000 people died worldwide during that flu season. This year’s flu vaccine should offer good protection against this flu strain.  

Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu can speed recovery from the H1N1 strain, which hasn’t developed much resistance to these drugs. Patients who think they have the flu should therefore seek treatment, especially if they have serious medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

Flu shot fast facts

• A flu shot reduces the odds a person will need treatment for the disease by 60 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The shot can also reduce illness, antibiotic use, time lost from work, hospitalizations and deaths.

• A flu shot helps even if a person already feels mildly sick. Those with fevers should wait until the fever has broken to get the vaccine. If nasal congestion is a problem, wait until the congestion has cleared before getting a nasal-administered vaccine.

• The vaccine can cause mild reactions such as soreness, headaches and fever.

• The CDC is recommending the flu shot to anyone older than 6 months.

Beat the bug:

• Bring your own pen – to the bank, grocery store, even to touch the ATM. Anything a sick person touches can get infested with germs, including money, mail, ATM keypads, elevator buttons, etc.

• Use paper — replace hand towels in bathrooms with paper towels. They’re not as pretty, but paper towels can help get rid of a ton of germs that live in damp towels.

• Wash hands frequently — use soap, warm water and rinse long enough to say the alphabet or sing “Happy Birthday.” Recent studies show plain soap and water works just fine.

• Use a proper hand sanitizer (at least 60 percent alcohol), even under fingernails, where germs hide.

• Clean with disinfectant — viruses and bacteria can live more than two hours on doorknobs, toys, TV remote controls, keyboards, mouse pads, refrigerator handles, counter tops, railings, faucets, bathroom floors and more.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services, Infectious Disease Foundation

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