Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory disease that is caused by influenza viruses. It occurs every year and can cause serious illness and even death Seasonal flu is usually not severe in most people, because they are already partly protected by having had a similar flu virus before.
Pandemic flu is different and can be much worse. It can cause a worldwide outbreak of a new form of the flu virus, which spreads easily from person to person because they have no immunity. Because the new pandemic flu virus would be able to travel easily from person to person, it could spread quickly over long distances to millions of people worldwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every year in the U.S. an average of 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu, and nearly 36,000 people die from flu or flu-related complications. Flu complications such as pneumonia and dehydration can be severe and the flu can also seriously worsen chronic medical conditions like asthma and diabetes.
Although most healthy people can recover from the common seasonal flu, there are some people at higher risk for complications like young children, the elderly, women who will be pregnant during flu season and people with certain chronic health conditions.
Flu season usually runs from November through April or May, with a significant peak between December and March. During this time, flu viruses spread easily from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. People can also become infected by touching objects with flu viruses on them and then touching their mouth or nose.
It is not easy to fend off the flu during flu season, but here are some tips that might help:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, stay away from others.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue whenever you sneeze or cough, even when nobody else is in the room. This will help minimize the spread onto surrounding objects where people can come in contact with the virus.
Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Get children in the habit of washing hands too.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth which are the main routes of absorption for viruses.
The CDC says that the single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination every fall. Anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated, but people at high risk for flu complications and people who live with or care for them should especially get the vaccine.
Here is some more information about the flu vaccine:
There are two forms of the flu vaccine. The most common form comes in a shot and for those who can’t stand needles, there is a nasal spray. The nasal spray is only recommended for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 who are not pregnant.
October is the recommended month to get the flu vaccine, but you can still get it later in the season. Just remember that it will take a couple of weeks for the protection to build up in your body.
The vaccination will only last through one season because the vaccine is reformulated each year to protect against the most prevalent strains of virus for the upcoming season.
Even with the vaccination, you can still get the flu. Protection depends on your age and health status, and also the similarity between the virus strains in the vaccine versus the viruses in circulation.
The flu vaccine does not protect against the common cold and other bacterial infections which can mimic flu symptoms.
Certain people should not take the flu vaccine without consulting a doctor first. These include people with an allergy to chicken eggs, people who have previously had a bad reaction to a flu vaccine and infants under 6 months old. Anyone with a moderate to severe illness with a fever should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population and the virus begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide. The federal government, states, communities, and industry are taking steps to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic.
If a pandemic occurs, it is likely to be a prolonged and widespread outbreak that could require temporary changes in many areas of society, such as schools, work, transportation and other public services. An informed and prepared public can take appropriate actions to decrease their risk during a pandemic. To be prepared for such an emergency, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services encourages individuals, businesses, and communities to:
Talk with your local public health officials and health care providers, who can supply information about the signs and symptoms of a specific disease outbreak and recommend prevention and control actions.
Adopt business/school practices that encourage sick employees/students to stay home and anticipate how to function with a significant portion of the workforce/school population absent due to illness or caring for ill family members.
Practice good health habits, including eating a balanced diet, exercising daily, and getting sufficient rest. In addition, take common-sense steps to stop the spread of germs including frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and staying away from others as much as possible when you are sick.
Stay informed about pandemic influenza and be prepared to respond. Consult www.pandemicflu.gov frequently for updates on national and international information on pandemic influenza.
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