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Did you get a flu shot this year? If not, you may want to head out to a pharmacy or doctor’s office soon. This year’s flu arrived early and is packing a virulent punch. Last week, the mayor of Boston and the governor of New York each declared public health emergencies. In Boston, there have been 7,000 confirmed cases of the flu this year. That is 100 times greater than the 70 confirmed cases for all of last year in Boston. There have been 20,000 cases across New York state this season compared to 4,400 last year. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed we are experiencing a flu epidemic, an usually high incidence of flu cases. The question is: will the unusually high numbers of flu cases continue? Flu season usually lasts from October through April; unfortunately, there is plenty of flu season left to find out.
An extended flu season not only increases your chances of being exposed to the bug and taxes health care providers, it has an economic impact as well. According to research published by the National Institutes of Health, “nearly 111 million workdays are lost due to the flu. That equals approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity.” Small businesses are especially hard-hit by flu epidemics because they have a more difficult time filling the gaps created by employee absences and rebounding when revenue is lost.
What can you do to help control the spread of this flu virus? How can you avoid getting sick? What is the flu, how is it spread, how is it diagnosed and treated? Visit health care experts online and arm yourself with the answers you will need to protect yourself from the flu.
More than a Case of the Sniffles
Influenza, the flu’s full name, is not the same as a cold. The flu is generally worst than a cold. Symptoms are more intense and complications can be more severe, even life-threatening. For a complete introduction to the flu, its cause, symptoms, potential complications, and treatments, play the influenza tutorial from the National Institute of Health.
Younger students may appreciate an introduction to the flu designed just for them. Kidshealth.org’s Flu Center provides just the thing. For an introduction to what the flu is and how it spreads, listen to or read the article, The Flu. Learn more about germs and how to protect yourself against the flu virus, including the best ways to prevent the spread of the flu. Answer the most important question: should you go to school?
How is the flu virus able to infiltrate your body? In the video Phooey on Flu, NPR’s Robert Krulwich explains some hows of the flu virus: how it invades your cells, how it spreads within your body, and how your immune system protects you from a total virus takeover.
Your Best Defense
It is impossible to guarantee you will not get the flu—you do not filter all the air you breathe or control the cleanliness of every surface. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that you will become infected. Flu.gov shares prevention and vaccination information. Prevention of the flu involves a few easy steps. The most effective and important prevention tool is to get a flu vaccine. Discover more about flu vaccine, including: how it is made, potential side effects, and when and how often to get one.
Some people are not fans of vaccines. However, vaccines are most effective when a large segment of the population is vaccinated against a particular illness. This is called ‘herd immunity.’ Why might herd immunity help control the spread of the flu virus? The National Institutes of Health shares an infographic that helps illustrate how herd immunity works.
Earlier, you watched a video in which Robert Krulwich explained how the flu invades your body. Now watch How Vaccines Work and discover the different ways vaccines are made, and how they help your body fight disease and build immunity.
Like a bad joke, the flu makes its rounds each season, sharing its virus. How does this season stand up to previous ones? NPR’s Diane Rehm talks with Dr. Freiden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about this year’s flu. They discuss how this season compares to previous years, and this year’s flu strains and vaccine. You will also hear from Johns Hopkins internist, Dr. Patel, about the flu patients she has seen this year. Listen from 1:33 to 9:55.
Return to the Flu.gov site and examine a dashboard of interactive, data-rich maps and graphs about the current situation. What does the Weekly US Map reveal? Compare the incidence of flu this year to the previous three years. Click the year tabs to show data simultaneously for all four years. Scroll over a graph to read infection rates for each age group during a particular week. How is the timing and infection rate this season different than previous seasons? What questions or concerns does that raise? Press play to watch how the flu virus spread across the United States this season. Where is the flu most severe now? Where were the first cases? What is your prediction for national flu rates next week, based on this data? Study the data for the laboratory confirmed influenza cases. What previous medical conditions make children more susceptible to the flu? Is this different than adults? Contrast the 2009 flu season to the current season. In what ways were these two flu seasons the same and different? In general, who is most susceptible to the flu? Does that generalization hold this season?
It is unavoidable: every year, the flu will come looking for bodies to invade, hosts to live in, people to sicken. Armed with simple steps and an annual flu virus, you can join the herd of people who make it more difficult for the virus to take hold and travel.