This year’s flu season is one of the worst in recent memory, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, we are only halfway through. The epidemic has now swept across 43 states. The number of flu victims is impossible to track, but CDC estimates it is in the thousands. Children have been the hardest hit. Six more children have died, bringing the total to 21. So what do you need to know to protect your family?
First, it’s important to understand this season’s flu epidemic is caused by a strain called Influenza A (H3N2). H3N2 seasons are usually worse than the other strains. This year there is an added problem, as the current vaccine is not targeted to H3N2, and it’s providing less protection than in other years.
Nevertheless, CDC officials continue to encourage people to get the vaccine. That’s their first recommendation:
1. Get vaccinated. Even though the vaccine is not targeted to the current strain, it will lessen the severity of your symptoms, should you succumb. Vaccination is particularly important for babies, young children and seniors. If you have asthma or diabetes, see your doctor and get an antiviral medication immediately. Tamiflu and Relenza have both been proven effective in reducing symptoms, particularly when taken within the first day or two.
2. Wash your hands. Yes, we’ve all heard this so often we tend to take it for granted, but it’s still your best defense. Viruses are typically transmitted on your fingers. Experts suggest you use soap and lather up from wrist to finger tip. Leave soap on long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice (you may want to sing under your breath if you’re out in public). Hand washing is particularly important for children; remind your child’s teacher.
2. Clean, clean, clean. The flu virus will live out in the open from two to eight hours, so midday and end of day are good times to clean. Disinfectant wipes do the job. Pay attention to school desks, doorknobs, keyboards, and office coffee pots.
3. Use hand sanitizer. Soap and water are the first choice, but when you are out and about an alcohol-based sanitizing gel is a good backup.
4. Finally, keep your distance. Flu is spread by sneezing, coughing and even talking but the virus won’t spread more than a distance of three or four feet.