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General Health : Diseases Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Seasonal Flu: What you need to know
By Ben Wasserman
Nov 13, 2008 - 12:11:17 PM

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Flu: What you need to know?


What is flu?


The flu also called influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. The illness can be mild or severe and in rare cases it can lead to death.


"The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year", the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website.


How many people are affected by flu?


Each year in the US, 5 to 20% of the population gets the flu. The illness sends more than 200,000 to hospitals and the CDC says that flu kills 36,000 people.   But critics dispute the claim saying that the majority of deaths are caused by pneumonia and only a small percentage by flu because symptoms for both are similar.


Who are most vulnerable for flu?


As always, people with weak immune system are at higher risk.   Older people, young children and people with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer are at greater risk of complications.   Many drugs and treatments can reduce the body's immune responses and raise the risk of infections including influenza.


What are the symptoms of flu?


According to the CDC, symptoms of flu include high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, and stomach problems like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The stomach problems can occur in children more often than in adults.


What types of complications can flu cause?


Flu is often a mild infection and would not pose too much of a risk.   But in those with weak immune system, complications can occur including bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure according to the CDC.


How do flu viruses spread from person to person?


Flu viruses spread mainly through coughing or sneezing of people with flu.   Flu can be fairly contagious particularly among people with poor immunity. Most people may spread viruses to others before they become sick.


How can I prevent flu?


The CDC says the only preventative measure is vaccination.   But studies have shown that many alternative remedies may be more effective than vaccine.  Alternative preventatives include high doses of vitamin C and vitamin D.   People are more likely to get flu in the winter because their vitamin D level is lower during the winter. Vitamin D is known to maintain powerful immune response and defend the body from attacks from flu viruses and others.


How effective is the flu vaccine?


The content in flu vaccines varies from one year to another because each year the strain of the virus that causes the flu epidemic may unlikely be the same.   Vaccine makers, based on the government's recommendations, construct their vaccines based on their prediction about what strain may emerge to be the trigger of the next flu epidemic.


For the 2008-2009 season, the vaccines contain A/Brisbane/59/2007(H1N1)-like virus, A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus, and B/Florida/4/2006-like virus, according to the CDC.


What is the CDC's vaccine recommendation?


The CDC says cited in verbatim:


In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.


People who should get vaccinated each year are:


   1. Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday

   2. Pregnant women

   3. People 50 years of age and older

   4. People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions

   5. People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

   6. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

            a.    Health care workers

            b.    Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu

            c.    Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)


Who should not get flu shots?


Again, the CDC says:


Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. They include:


    * People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.

    * People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.

    * People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.

    * Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for use in this age group).

    * People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

Editor’s note:   Okay, Google is helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitor the annual flu epidemic with an unconventional tool, a tool that is based on search keywords. Studies showed that prediction of flu outbreaks by the Google Flu Trends, can not only quick, but also reliable.  Research demonstrated the Google prediction matched the official surveillance data. The difference is that Google provides real time reporting while the reports the CDC receive from surveillance centers have a lag period of two weeks.  Google provides the service for free and the data are being reported to the CDC real time.  The CDC can notify health professionals quickly when a notice is necessary.  For us, we are more concerned about the flu prevention.  We know there is no cure for the viral infection.  But we also know something that we can do to prevent the illness affects millions of people each year.  Below we provide a set of common questions and answers on flu and prevention for those who might want to learn more about this illness.

© 2004-2008 by unless otherwise specified

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