H1N1 is back, although it’s not as severe as it was in 2009 when a record number of hospitalizations and deaths occurred.
The bad news is health officials say this season’s version is now widespread across 35 states, including Ohio, and it can be lethal even for otherwise healthy people.
There’s no need for panic, but experts are encouraging those who haven’t gotten a flu shot to do so.
That’s sound advice, considering H1N1’s strength.
Even though the shot won’t prevent all strains of flu, a preliminary study rated this year’s vaccine as 62 percent effective, and experts say it’s a good match for the H1N1, commonly known as swine flu.
No deaths have yet been reported in our region, but seven people have died of flu or flu-related illnesses in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan. Five of those cases occurred in Lucas County.
Ideally, a person should get the vaccine by Thanksgiving. But getting vaccinated makes sense any time during flu season, which can last until May.
Unlike 2009, when the flu vaccine was scarce, there is no shortage this year. Shots are still being given at many pharmacies, grocery and drugstores, as well as by doctors.
It’s easy to become complacent about the flu and put off getting a shot. In some areas, suspicion of immunizations and vaccinations has left many people at risk.
Typically, the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations peak in late January and early February.
The flu can be more than an uncomfortable inconvenience for those who get it. It can be costly, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu contributes more than $10 billion in direct health care costs and high worker absentee expenses. Each year, one in five, or an average of 62 million, Americans will get the flu.
Depending on the severity of the season, between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans will die from flu or flu-related illnesses, and 226,000 will be hospitalized.
It’s not just the elderly who fall victim.
Between 2004 and 2012, 830 children between 6 months and 18 years old died from flu complications. Forty-three percent of these children were completely healthy otherwise.
It’s true there is no foolproof way to avoid getting the flu. But there is simple way to improve the odds: Get a flu shot.
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