Flu Season

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The flu season is in full force and it's here a lot earlier than normal. That's creating serious concerns for health care providers. The fast moving flu strain is creating a problem.

It's here, it's spreading and your flu shot probably won't protect against it. A new type of influenza has surfaced and much earlier than expected.

"We're seeing more influenza coming in very recently in the past week," Dr. Gary Zaid says.

"Definitely a lot more people with flu symptoms in the last two or three weeks," says Dr. David Stern.

Normally January is the height of flu season, but many U.S. states already are reporting a great deal of influenza activity.

"It's probably related to the mild weather we're having lately. The last couple of years we've had a rapid cold November and it's kept people from congregating with each other and spreading the virus," adds Dr. Zaid.

To make matters worse, the influenza strain most of us are getting is not targeted in this year's flu shots. Still doctors are urging Americans to roll up our sleeves and get the shot.

"There will be some strains that will go around that are protected by the shot," says Dr. Stern.

And if you do get sick, the shot can reduce the severity of most strains. With the busy thanksgiving travel season just around the corner, the flu is likely to spread even faster. So keep in mind common sense prevention like hand washing which also will give you a shot at staying healthy.

Doctors say influenza is characterized by high fever, cough and sore throat. If you have these symptoms you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Influenza can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death.

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Influenza Vaccine

  • Much of the illness and death caused by influenza can be prevented by annual influenza vaccination.

  • Influenza vaccine is specifically recommended for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications as a result of influenza infection.

  • These high-risk groups are:
    • All people age 65 and older.
    • People of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs or kidneys, diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia.
    • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities housing patients of any age.
    • Women who will be more then three months pregnant during influenza season.
    • Children and teenagers who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who may therefore be at risk for developing Reye syndrome after an influenza virus infection.

  • Overall vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, depending upon the degree of similarity between the influenza virus strains included in the vaccine and the strain or strains that circulate during the influenza season.

  • Influenza vaccine produced in the United States cannot cause influenza.

  • The only type of influenza vaccine that has been licensed in the United States is made from killed influenza viruses, which cannot cause infection.

When to receive the influenza vaccine

  • In the United States, influenza usually occurs from about November until April, with activity peaking between late December and early March.

  • The optimal time for vaccination of persons at high risk for influenza-related medical complications is during October through November.

  • It takes about 1 to 2 weeks after vaccination for antibody against influenza to develop and provide protection.

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvac.htm (The Center for Disease Control Vaccine Information Web site.)