Flu season in the northern hemisphere can range from as early as November to as late as May. The peak month usually is February. However, this coming season is expected to be unpredictable because of the emergence of the H1N1 influenza virus or swine flu. The H1N1 has caused the first global outbreak — pandemic — of influenza in more than four decades. There is concern that the 2009 H1N1 virus may make the season worse than a regular flu season. It is feared that there will be many more hospitalizations and fatalities this season. The 2009 H1N1 virus caused illness in the U.S. during the summer months when influenza is very uncommon. The 2009-10 flu vaccine protects against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. The seasonal vaccine is not expected to protect against the 2009 H1N1 virus. A vaccine for 2009 H1N1 is being produced and may be ready for the public in the fall. The 2009-10 vaccine can be administered anytime during flu season. However, the best time to get inoculated is October-November. The protection provided by the vaccine lasts about a year. Adults over 50 are prime candidates for the vaccine because the flu can be fatal for people in this age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 20 percent of the population gets the flu each year. The CDC reports vaccination rates are better for those over 65. About 7 in 10 seniors get their flu shots. You can get the flu vaccine from your doctor, at public health centers, senior centers, pharmacies and supermarkets. For more than four decades, the flu vaccine has been strongly recommended for older people, but now some scientists say the vaccine probably doesn’t work well for those over 70. About 75 percent of flu deaths happen to people in this age group. Flu is a contagious illness of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus. Flu can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear problems and dehydration. Droplets from coughing and sneezing spread the flu. An adult with flu can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Children may spread flu for more than seven days. The best way to combat the bug is to get the flu vaccine. You have to get inoculated annually because new vaccines are prepared every year to combat new versions of the virus. When you battle the flu, you develop antibodies to the invading virus, but those antibodies don’t work on new strains. The vaccine does not prevent flu in all people; it works better in younger recipients than older ones. Contrary to rumor, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine. The flu vaccine is not made from a live virus. The recovery time for the flu is about one to two weeks. However, in seniors, weakness may persist for a longer time. The common scenario for flu is a sudden onset of symptoms, which include chills, fatigue, fever, cough, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle aches and appetite loss. While nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be related to the flu, these are rarely the primary flu symptoms. The flu is not a stomach or intestinal disease. The term stomach flu is inaccurate. When symptoms strike, get to a doctor as soon as possible; the faster the better. There are prescription antiviral drugs to treat flu. Over-the-counter medicines can help relieve symptoms of the flu. You should also drink liquids to prevent dehydration, and sleep to bolster your immune system.
- More Flu News & Information
The Healthy Geezer column publishes each Wednesday on LiveScience. If you would like to ask a question, please write firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2009 by Fred Cicetti.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.