During the 2009-2010 flu season we were introduced to a new strain of flu: H1N1, more commonly known as the swine flu. From April 15, 2009 to July 24, 2009, states reported a total of 43,771 confirmed and probable cases of novel influenza A (H1N1) infection. Of these cases reported, 5,011 people were hospitalized and 302 people died, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
But just how bad was last years' flu season? Not too bad, according to the center.
“Preliminary findings suggest that this was a season not unlike influenza seasons that we see each year in the United States,” said Dr. Michael Jhung, Medical Officer in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the Centers for Disease Control.
Flu season typically lasts from October to May with January and February being the peak months. The number of people treated for flu-like symptoms this year peaked only at 4.5 percent, unlike last year where it peaked earlier in the season at 7.5 percent, Jhung said.
Maryland saw two peaks this year, according to Mark Hodge, the nurse administrator in the immunization department of the Department of Health and Human Services. One peak was in late January and the other was in late February, but both were below disease peaks last year.
"Overall it appears as though two strains, both covered in the vaccine, were predominant in the lab confirmed cases, including H1N1 and H3N5," Hodge said. "We gave far fewer flu vaccines at our clinics this year, demand was back to normal."
Hodge said that initial reports from the Centers for Disease Control suggest that more than 50 percent of Montgomery County residents reported receiving this years' flu vaccine.
“It was widely available at community retail pharmacies, doctor's offices, and community clinics, and residents took advantage of this,” he said.
During the 2009-2010 flu season, about 90 percent of those hospitalized with flu were under 65, which was different from typical flu seasons, including this year’s flu season. Usually about 70 percent of people hospitalized with flu are under the age of 65.
In the state of Maryland this year, school age children (ages 5 to 17) only accounted for 5 percent of flu-related hospitalizations.
Scott Harper, a parent of a 7th grader at , said that although his daughter does not get the flu shot every year, they make sure she has a healthy diet.
“We generally fortify her with vitamins and minerals and make sure she washes her hands regularly,” Harper said.
Although children are more likely to carry and transfer the flu, due to weaker immune systems, Hodge said.
Randy East, Director of Sales and Marketing at Kensington Park Retirement Community, said they take a number of measures every year to ensure that their residents avoid the flu and stay as healthy as possible.
“In addition to holding an annual flu-shot clinic for all residents in the community, we also pride ourselves on deceasing illness through proper hand washing and education to our staff, residents and their families,” East said. “We also request that anyone exhibiting cold or flu symptoms to refrain from visiting their loved one until they have recovered. A well balanced diet and hydration, coupled with regular hand washing is necessary for the continued good health of our residents [and staff]."
Dr. Jhung and the Centers for Disease Control said there are important rules that everyone should live by when dealing with the flu:
- Get annual flu shots and practice proper hygiene.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, (or use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash).
- Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, handkerchief or your sleeve at the crook of the elbow.
- Stay home from work or school if you are sick (remember that you are contagious for 24 hours after symptoms subside).
Although the center said that flu season typically lasts until April, the flu can sometimes linger for a little while longer, said Hodge.
“Conventional wisdom is the flu season does not typically end until late May meaning there is always a risk of getting the flu,” Hodge said. “So, it’s never too late to get a flu shot."