Flu Season Has Kicked In… Here’s How to Protect Yourself

The flu season is well under way across the United States with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that between 6 million and 7 million people have already come down with the illness.
CDC officials said Friday that half of those afflicted sought medical attention. As many as 84,000 were hospitalized.
In addition, 24 states reported widespread influenza activity in early January.
Experts say rates of influenza are generally above-average levels across the country.
“At the end of 2018, flu activity was high in New York City and 19 states, including most of the American southwest and New Jersey. It’s still low in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 22 of our 50 states, but that will change as the season progresses,” Stephen Morse, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Healthline.
H1N1 has been the most common strain of the virus seen so far this season, which experts anticipate will be milder than last year’s strain.
The 2017/2018 influenza season was considered one of high severity by the CDC with high rates of emergency department visits and widespread flu activity over an extended period.
By the end of October 2018, 185 pediatric deaths from flu complications were reported to the CDC, with 80 percent of deaths occurring in children who hadn’t been vaccinated against influenza.
The number of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza were at or above epidemic levels for 16 straight weeks during the 2017/18 flu season.
But after the Southern Hemisphere experienced a much milder flu season about six months ago, health experts are hopeful this year won’t be as bad.
“The dominant virus is different from last year, which is excellent. The H1N1 virus generally produces milder infections like Australia had last season. We are hoping for a milder season than we had last year, which was a doozy,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, told Healthline.
“All of the fluologists have their own crystal ball, but flu is fickle so we’re always very cautious about predicting, but I will say so far so good, not bad,” he said.
Two main strains
Since the 1970s, two major Type A flu varieties have coexisted: H3N2 and H1N1.
Each season typically sees one of the strains dominate and H3N2 historically has been considered the nastier of the two strains.
But experts still keep a careful eye on the H1N1 strain, which in 1918 infected 500 million people worldwide and killed 50 million in one of the worst disease outbreaks in recorded history.
“In 1918, the situation was very unusual as a high proportion of the fatalities were in young healthy adults and death often occurred quickly,” Schaffner said.
“There is still discussion about how this happened, but many scientists think that the infection somehow overstimulated the immune system, causing an effect similar to septic shock or a hemorrhagic fever. In cases with longer duration, the infection can also open up the body to a secondary bacterial pneumonia. Although that was, thankfully, unique, we want never to see it repeated.”