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In December, the U.S. health officials announced that this yearâ€™s influenza season had started early and they predicted it would hit the United States hard. Unfortunately, as reports from around the country make clear, they were right.
The flu began spreading on the East Coast by early November and soon worked its way west across the country. On January 9, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley asked residents with flu symptoms to call their primary doctor first before traveling to the cityâ€™s already crowded emergency rooms. Then Boston declared a public health emergency because physicians there were reporting a ten-fold increase in the number of flu cases, compared to last yearâ€™s much milder flu season.
Public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized that the outbreak has not yet peaked and that anyone who was not yet vaccinated could still benefit from getting this seasonâ€™s flu shot.
This yearâ€™s vaccine is considered well-matched against the flu because it contains both the H3N2 strain that is predominant this year, as well as the H1N1 strain that has been circulating in smaller numbers.
The last time the flu season started this early was in the winter of 2003-2004.
Interestingly, the type of flu that predominated then is the same one that is hitting us now, the H3N2 strain. Health officials estimate that this strain causes more severe illness because young people in particular have had less exposure to it. They also note that the flu hit before many people had a chance to get vaccinated.
Other than vaccination, the best defense against catching the flu is to wash your hands regularly (or use a hand sanitizer), cover your cough and
The 5 Best Ways to Avoid Catching and Spreading the Flu Virus:
1. Cover Your Mouth and Nose to Stop the Flu but not with your hand! You should sneeze into a tissue or paper towel, but if you don't have those with you, you should sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
2. Prevent Flu: Soap Away Germs! Scrubbing germy hands is one of the top tips for preventing spread of the flu. Use soap and warm water, rub your hands together for 15 to 20 seconds, at least.
3. Don't Be Touchy: Keep Your Hands Off Your Face. Rubbing your eyes, nose, or mouth is a sure-fire way to get the flu. These are bad habits for many people but they are the main way a virus gets into your system, via the oral and respiratory nasal route.
4. Good Health Beats the Flu: The Power of Healthy Habits. When you're in good health, your immune system is stronger. So keep yourself in top health this flu season -- and throughout next year! They best ways to do this are to eat your vegetables, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and reduce stress.
5. If you are sick, STAY AT HOME! This way you will avoid spreading this highly contagious virus to co-workers, customers or people in hospitals and nursing homes.