By Trisha Torrey, About.com Guide
Updated February 05, 2011
If you’re feeling like you have the worst cold you ever had, or worse, like you’ve been hit by a truck, then you may have the flu.
Seasonal Flu 2010 – 2011
The CDC expects 2011 to be an average flu year, although it’s getting a foothold in the United States later than in recent years. According to the CDC, flu seasons are generally unpredictable, although epidemics happen every year.
An average of 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to seasonal flu annually. Between 1976 and 2006, the fewest Americans who died from the flu was 3,000 in one year. The most deaths from flu in that same time period were 49,000 in one year. Most of those who died were either infants, elderly, or people who had compromised immune systems due to another medical problem.
Flu symptoms are upper respiratory in nature: cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some flu patients will run a fever, and some may get diarrhea. Note that these symptoms are not gastrointestinal. “Stomach flu” is very different — in fact, it’s not really influenza at all. (Learn about the difference between flu and “stomach flu”.)
If you are interested in following the advent of flu across the United States, the CDC provides a flu mapthat is updated once a week. The CDC also maintains a Global Flu Activity Report, which it updates weekly, too.
Google provides a global flu trends map, which shows the spread of flu based on the location of the people who use Google to search for flu information — like you might have done to find this article.
Swine / H1N1 Pandemic Flu 2011
In 2009, the talk and fear of seasonal flu was eclipsed in a big way by the fear instilled when H1N1, earlier known as “swine flu,” began reaching across the globe, eventually killing almost 14,000 people. Described as pandemic by the World Health Organization, H1N1 eventually seemed to fade away by early 2010. By August 2010, the WHO declared H1N1 swine flu was “post-pandemic“, the last phase of any pandemic.
However, H1N1 flu is still making people sick, even killing some patients in random areas of the world, and is expected to do so for years to come. According to the World Health Organizationand various news reports, cases of H1N1 were reported as late as December 2010 and January 2011 in England, Ireland, Germany, Sri Lanka, Korea, New Zealand and India.
The 2011 Flu Vaccine
Because new virus strains constantly evolve, and are therefore different from previous strains, we are not immune to the new strains. Once we are exposed to those new strains, our lack of immunity may mean we get that flu.
In order to gain immunity, then, we must get flu vaccinations, and we must get them more than two weeks before we are exposed to the flu. As long as the vaccine was developed accurately (meaning, the flu experts accurately predicted what flu strains might make the rounds and built the new vaccine accordingly), we will likely escape getting the flu.
The flu vaccine developed for the 2011 flu season seems to have been accurate, thereby rendering the vaccine very effective toward warding off the 2010-2011 flu viruses in those who have been vaccinated.
Included in the 2010-2011 flu vaccine is protection from H1N1 swine flu. The CDC recommends that even if you were vaccinated against H1N1 in 2009 or 2010, you should still plan to get the most current flu vaccination because you’ll need the protection from the newer identified virus strains.
How Should You Protect Yourself from Flu?
There are several steps you can take to prevent flu from making you sick.
The most effective way to prevent flu is to get the latest flu vaccine. The recommendations for those who should receive flu vaccinations changed in 2010 and now include anyone who is 6 months of age or older. This creates “herd immunity,” which is about protecting other, at-risk people around us.
There are some people who should not get the vaccine; the CDC publishes guidelines for determining whether you should be vaccinated, and whether you are a candidate for the inhaled version of the vaccine, called FluMist.
Check with your doctor to make an appointment to get the flu vaccine, or use this flu vaccine finder to find a source for the flu shot in your community.
Whether or not you get a flu shot (or get the inhaled version of the vaccine), you should keep your hands washed (to rid them of flu virus you may have picked up by touching something), avoid contact with others who are sick, and take the usual healthy steps of eating right and getting enough sleep, in order to keep your immunity at its strongest.
What Should You Do If You Get the Flu?
If you are otherwise healthy and you begin to feel the symptoms of flu (see above), then contact your doctor’s office and ask whether you should make an appointment. Most patients do not need to be seen by a doctor, even if they are sure they have the flu.
You’ll need to stay home from work or school, and take care of yourself by keeping yourself hydrated, eating right, and getting plenty of sleep.
If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow or the sleeve of your shirt or sweater — not your hand. Flu, or any bacteria or virus, passes easily by touching, so the cleaner your hands, the less chance you’ll pass it to someone else.
If you recognize your symptoms early, within two days of feeling symptomatic, then contact your doctor to determine whether you can benefit from taking one of the anti-viral drugs that fight the flu. These drugs, Tamilflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir), are approved by the FDA and cited by the CDC as effective against influenza. They may shorten the number of days you are actually sick with symptoms. The CDC publishes more information about anti-viral medicines.