January 7 – One Flu Over

Today’s factismal: Nearly four million Americans have had the flu thus far this season.

Every year, the influenza virus strikes (actually, a couple of them strike). And every year, millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people elsewhere come down with it. Though most of the people who come down with the flu eventually recover, hundreds of thousands of people die every year. This year the flu is particularly bad (though nowhere near as bad as it was in 1918). Instead of being the expected variant, this year’s strain is an H3N2 virus, a particularly nasty strain that is more severe in older people and children. Thus far, nearly 4,000,000 Americans in 43 states have come down with the flu.

Influenza is widespread in the 43 dark brown states (Image courtesy CDC)

Influenza is widespread in the 43 dark brown states
(Image courtesy CDC)

Fortunately, we are near the peak of flu season. The number of new cases this week is down slightly and is expected to drop further next week. And that is due in large part to the efforts of the CDC and other medical authorities; thanks to them, influenza is now the ninth most common cause of death instead of being the most common cause. That’s due in large part to the introduction of annual vaccines; though sometimes they don’t quite match the flu strains that occur (as happened this year), they still reduce hospitalizations from the flu by nearly 70%.

Do the "Dracula sneeze" (Image courtesy Arizona State University)

Do the “Dracula sneeze”
(Image courtesy the University of Arizona)

What can you do other than get a flu vaccine? Doctors recommend three things: First, wash your hands a lot and practice “vampire sneezes”; that helps reduce the spread of germs and keeps the flu form infecting others. Second, get the flu vaccine; that helps keep you healthy even when someone else forgets to cover their sneeze. And third, report your flu on Influenzanet (good for folks in the EU; strangely, the CDC doesn’t have anything like it for the US); that helps the doctors track the outbreak and send resources where they are needed.

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