The dominent strain of influenza in most communities so far this year has been the prior pandemic strain p2009 A (H1N1). In San Juan County there has been only one confirmed case so far.
Influenza is usually not widespread until later in the season, typically the first outbreaks locally are in the schools some time after the beginning of school but occasionally as late a March.
In 2009 the virus caused more severe disease in children and young adults compared to older adults. Severe illness can occur in all age groups. In 2012 there were about 380,000 hospitalizations world-wide.
In 2013 cases the strain is causing some cases of severe disease in middle-aged adults. Some people have required hospitalization including in some cases ICU care. There have been fatalities reported.
Dr. Frank James, county Health Officer says to expect continued sporadic cases over the holidays and then a gradual increase to local, then regional and finally widespread disease (usually in February).
It is not too late to be vaccinated against influenza. Anyone not yet vaccinated should be as soon as possible, according to Dr. James. It is recommended that everyone over six-months of age should be vaccinated.
Among healthy adults, influenza vaccine can prevent 70-90% of flu-specific illness. Among the elderly, the vaccine reduces severe illnesses and complications by up to 60%.
Antivirals are recommended as soon in the course of the disease as possible for those who were not vaccinated. The drugs are also recommended for people who are hospitalized; have severe, complicated, progressive illness; and those who are at increased risk of complications.
Flu is spread when a person coughs and infected droplets get into the air where another person can breathe them in and become exposed. The virus can also be spread by hands infected with the virus. Influenza spreads easily and quickly.
Seasonal flu is characterized by a sudden onset of high fever, dry cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise, sore throat and runny nose. Most people recover from the flu within a week without requiring medical attention.
There are three things everyone should do according to Dr. James:
First, get vaccinated. Almost everyone over 6 months of age should get a flu shot. It will protect against several different strains of the flu that circulate in the fall and winter each year.
Second, take action to prevent the spread of the flu. Avoid contact with those who are sick, stay home if you are sick until 24 hours after your fever is gone, cover your cough, and wash your hands frequently.
Third, if you do get the flu, see your doctor, who may prescribe antivirals.
More information is available on the Center for Disease Control's website.