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Why are some flu seasons worse than others?

Why are some flu seasons worse than others?

It's official, the Centers for Disease Control announced in January that this year's flu season had reached epidemic status. It may not come as a surprise to some of our readers who may have already struggled with though a bout of influenza already this year, but according to data, nine of ten regions in the United States have reported ‘elevated' levels of flu cases, some regions with nearly 10 times as many cases as were reported during the relatively mild 2011-12 flu season.

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The CDC expects more deaths from flu related symptoms this year as well. This year's flu season reached its peak early, around November, and a typical flu season will last 10 to 12 weeks, so the good news is that we're most likely out of the woods. But why was this year's flu so brutal? We thought we'd take some time in this issue to talk about the flu epidemic and dig for some answers about the flu: Why are some seasons worse than others? What can I do to avoid it?

Healthy Life spoke to someone who's had a lot of hands-on experience with the impact of the flu on our region: United Medical Associates' physician, Dr. Frank Floyd. We asked Dr. Floyd about this year's epidemic, how it compares to years past and what to do to combat the virus now and in the future. This year's flu season hit fast and hard.

The number of cases peaked early and became widespread faster than in years past. A number of factors that could contribute to the speed and severity of the flu spread this year and complacency may be one of them. Because the last few flu seasons weren't particularly strong, people may have been lulled into a false sense of security and didn't bother to get a flu shot. The urgency of getting vaccinated was just not there until it was too late. Dr. Floyd also says when it's cold outside for extended periods; people spend more time indoors, in close quarters with each other, increasing the chances for the virus to spread.

There are some who reason that they'll take their chances on getting the flu given the vaccine is only around 60 percent effective in combating the virus. To that Dr. Floyd answers, "60% is better than nothing". And it's important to get the flu vaccine not just for you, but for those around you. Do you have young children at home? Are you caring for an elderly relative or friend? Do you come in contact with anyone with a chronic medical condition or compromised immune system? These are all people who are the most susceptible to the flu, and who can suffer the most if they get it. So, even if you aren't that concerned about getting the flu, think about those around you and, get vaccinated.

An untreated case of the flu can develop into a serious health condition, so if you think you might have it, see a doctor. The flu season has waned, and Dr. Floyd is not seeing patients with flu coming into his office right now, so if you're in normal good health, you probably don't need to get a flu shot this late. But the doctor does recommend those who have chronic health conditions, or are travelling get the vaccine, just to be safe. Due to this severity of this season's flu epidemic, there was a temporary shortage of doses of vaccines, but supplies are back up at most locations. There's really no reliable way of predicting the severity of a flu outbreak in a given season, but there is one surefire way to give yourself at least a fighting chance against getting the flu every year. Get a flu shot. Every year. Mark it on your calendar now.

Frank Floyd, MD
UHS-United Medical Associates
800 Hooper Rd.
Endwell, NY