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Flu season arrives late this year
The experts say that the 2011 – 2012 flu season took its time getting started, in fact, the latest start in 25 years. Lab-confirmed cases had been reported in all 50 states by early February in numbers that indicated the official start of the season.
Even authorities at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have an explanation for this tardiness. Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the CDC’s epidemiology and prevention branch in the CDC’s influenza division believes that “It’s probably related to several things and probably other things we don’t understand well.
Mostly, it’s related probably to the fact that flu is unpredictable. There are a lot of things about flu we don’t understand.”
Bresee credits the fact that the influenza vaccine administered this year covers the strains of the virus that are being seen and also the reality that so many Americans received the vaccine as reasons for the later than normal start.
He is not able to say, though, whether the season will be shorter or not. “We are getting a late start, but we don’t know when the peak will be, if it will be a lower peak or a normal peak,” he said. “We always can predict after the year is over, sadly.”
Peak or no peak, if you are planning on traveling in the next month or so, take some extra precautions to make sure you stay as healthy as possible. Airports and planes, bus stations and buses, tourist attractions, restaurants, anywhere you are in close contact with a lot of people can be prime areas to pick up the flu, or any other virus.
The single most effective action you can take to ward off the flu virus is to wash your hands frequently and well. Carry a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you to use when hand-washing is not possible.
Even though it’s difficult, if you are sick, postpone your travel plans. First of all, it’s miserable to travel when you are under the weather, especially with an illness like the flu. Secondly, if you choose to go, you are risking others’ health because you may be spreading the flu virus in your wake.
Maybe the late flu start-up can’t be blamed on the mild winter we are experiencing, but a possible early start to the allergy season certainly can be.
A warmer-than-average winter can cause trees to start pollinating earlier in some places, according to Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). It’s still a little too early for that around here (although I just glanced outside at the pussy willows that are about ready to burst open) but don’t be surprised of your springtime allergies begin plaguing you sooner, rather than later this year.
Sometimes, allergies can be so intense that it’s hard to decipher whether your symptoms are indeed allergies, or might possibly be caused by the flu or a cold.
In general, allergies do not cause a fever or body aches like a cold or flu can. The nasal discharge most often associated with allergies tends to be clear and can, unfortunately, go on for weeks, where a cold or the flu will usually resolve in 10 – 14 days. If you know that spring is a bad time for your allergies, it may be worthwhile to get your arsenal of treatments stocked sooner rather than later.
Finally, if you have heart disease, diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS or any other chronic illness or are over the age of 65, it is especially important to do everything you can to avoid getting the flu. Complications from the flu are more common in those with these conditions.
Hopefully, you will have gotten your flu shot this year. It also pays to avoid large crowds in enclosed places and wash your hands frequently.
If you do get what you think is the flu and can get to your health care provider’s office within the first 24-48 hours of the onset of your symptoms, you can receive an antiviral medicine that can shorten the course of your illness.
Whether it’s allergies, the flu or a cold, it can make life miserable for a while. We may be lucky with a shorter flu season this year, but it never hurts to take precautions against getting any illness. Wash your hands!