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Flu season off to a strong start

Category: Infectious Diseases

Flu season is underway, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC, nearly 2.2 percent of all hospital visits are currently attributed to flu-related symptoms, and in five states, those numbers have increased to 4 percent. This year marks the flu season's earliest arrival since the 2003-2004 season. The early onset of the flu, along with the H3N2 strain that's dominant this year, may indicate a "bad flu year," noted Frieden. Last time the H3N2 virus was the dominant strain, which was also during the 2003-2004 season, there were 153 flu-associated child deaths, reports the CDC.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Paul Biedrzycki, the director of disease control and environmental health for the Milwaukee Health Department, noted that the current vaccine is a good match for inoculating patients against the H3N2 strain, which can be detected with a lab test.

"However, you can't rule out a possible mutation in the flu virus," said Biedrzycki, as quoted by the news source. "Flu viruses change unexpectedly and arbitrarily."

The Sentinel reported that there have already been 113 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in Wisconsin, and on December 3, there were 14 flu-related hospitalizations reported to the state, four of which were pregnant women.

Biedrzycki also noted that even if the flu did mutate, the current-vaccine can still provide some protection and may help to curb widespread transmission to demographics that are affected more severely by the virus, such as the elderly and pregnant women.

Flu prevention
The CDC notes that one of the most important measures in flu prevention is for everyone who is 6 months or older to get the flu vaccine. The source also recommends that people cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when sneezing and to immediately dispose of the tissue afterward in order to help stop the spread of germs.

Hygiene is another important measure in flu prevention. People should regularly wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if necessary. It's also important to avoid touching the eyes, mouth and nose with the hands. If someone is sick, he or she should try to minimize contact with other people in order to prevent the sickness from spreading, and the CDC notes that people who have contracted the flu should stay at home for at least a day after their fevers have subsided.
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