Last year’s H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, triggered the first flu pandemic in decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 60 million cases of H1N1, more than 274,000 hospitalizations and approximately 12,500 deaths. Learn what to expect from H1N1 in the coming year, so you and your family can stay healthy during cold and flu season.
H1N1: What to Expect in 2010-11
In August, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 pandemic over. Out-of-season outbreaks have waned, H1N1 is no longer the dominant influenza virus, and much of the population has either been vaccinated or exposed to the virus. “At this time, we do not see any evidence of another pandemic on the horizon,” says Jeffrey Dimond, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While this is good news, it doesn’t mean you can abandon your efforts to keep yourself and your family safe from swine flu. “The H1N1 virus is still circulating,” explains Dimond. “Like other seasonal flu strains, it will probably begin circulating more aggressively as we get into flu season this fall.”
The No. 1 way to protect yourself and your loved ones from H1N1 is to get vaccinated. This year, there are some important changes to the vaccination process:
- Just one vaccine. Do you remember getting two shots last year? There were two different influenza vaccines -- one for seasonal flu and one for swine flu. That’s because H1N1 wasn’t identified until after manufacturers had already started to produce the seasonal flu vaccine. “This year, one influenza vaccine that also incorporates H1N1 will be available,” says Dr. Peter Katona, associate clinical professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, Health System.
- Increased distribution. In February, a panel of immunization experts voted to expand the influenza vaccine recommendation to include everyone 6 months and older. In past years, it focused on children, the elderly and those in close contact with people at higher risk.
The hope is that these changes will make the 2010-11 flu season less dangerous. One thing that hasn’t changed is when and where to get your vaccine. Check with your doctor, neighborhood clinic or local pharmacy; yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as it’s available. Too often people make the mistake of waiting until coworkers and friends are sniffling and sneezing, but it’s best to get vaccinated before flu season peaks to stop the spread of germs. Not sure where to get vaccinated? Visit the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder at cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination.
Keep Your Guard Up
A flu shot isn’t license to slack off on other stay-healthy strategies. “The flu is unpredictable, so we just don’t know at this time to what extent any rebound of H1N1 flu might occur,” says Dimond. That’s why it’s crucial to follow this flu-fighting checklist to stay well and keep your family germ-free.
- Wash up. Hygiene is key to stopping the spread of H1N1. “Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available,” says Dimond.
- Cover your coughs. Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand, if you don’t have a tissue. When you sneeze, thousands of infectious droplets go flying. If they land on your hands, you spread the germs to anything you touch, where they can remain contagious for several hours.
- Take a sick day. Feeling under the weather? Don’t go into the office, and don’t send your little one to school when she’s ill. “You may think you’re impressing coworkers with your dedication, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by spreading germs around the office,” says Dimond.
- Bolster your immune system. “Eat a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise and practice stress-reduction techniques,” says Katona. Stock up on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, take a brisk walk most days, and engage in some soothing me-time (try practicing yoga or meditation or taking a long, hot bath).