CLOSE
iStock
iStock

5 Important Things to Know About the 2018 Flu Season

iStock
iStock

It's normal for people to fantasize about taking a Hawaiian vacation in the dead of winter, but the far-flung tropical state holds extra allure right now: Hawaii is the only area in the U.S. that hasn't yet reported widespread influenza activity, according to the Center for Disease Control's latest flu report.

Thirty-two states so far (plus New York City and Puerto Rico) are currently experiencing "high" flu activity, and nearly 9000 influenza-related hospitalizations (mainly involving seniors, middle aged patients, and children) have been reported since October 1, 2017. Whether you've been personally affected by the virus or managed to avoid it thus far, here's what you need to know about this year's flu season.

1. IT'S BAD BUT NOT UNPRECEDENTED.

Yes, this flu season is bad, but not apocalyptically so. In fact, the 2014–2015 season was "just as bad, if not worse," Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told MD Magazine. "Though the perception has been ‘Wow, this is unprecedented,' in no way is it unprecedented."

Most states have reported high influenza levels and an increase in pediatric influenza hospitalizations. But both the 2014–2015 and 2012–2013 seasons saw even greater child hospitalization rates in early January, according to Fauci. The current flu season has been hyped mostly because it came in earlier than expected, and with a vengeance—not because it's more severe than in the past.

2. MULTIPLE STRAINS OF FLU ARE CIRCULATING—AND ONE IS PARTICULARLY VIRULENT.

Multiple influenza strains are currently circulating throughout the U.S., with the most vicious one being the H3N2 flu. According to CDC experts, flu seasons dominated by H3N2 can lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths—and unfortunately, the current flu vaccine may be just 30 percent effective against this particular strain. On average, a flu shot is around 40 to 60 percent effective.

The seasonal flu shot allows individuals to develop infection-fighting antibodies against strains that experts predict will soon be be widespread. This year, experts thought that the H1 strain would reign supreme, and they designed the vaccine accordingly. People are indeed still catching it, and the shot grants them protection against this strain. While it offers less protection against H3N2, it can still lessen the severity of your illness if you do come down with it.

3. THE FLU SEASON HAS LIKELY PEAKED, BUT IT'S NOT OVER QUITE YET.

The CDC announced on Friday, January 12, that the influenza illness had likely reached its zenith for the 2017–2018 flu season. But just because it's peaked doesn't mean it's over; in fact, officials say we may have up to three months to go until we're officially out of the germy woods. Keep your guard up: Wash your hands, tote around hand sanitizer, and avoid sniffly colleagues.

4. IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO GET YOUR FLU SHOT.

Getting an annual flu shot in the fall provides you with maximum protection, but it isn't too late to get vaccinated if you forgot to schedule a seasonal appointment.

Even if you're not worried about getting sick yourself, it's still important to get the shot to protect others; when it comes to infectious disease, we're all in this together. Epidemiologists call that mutual collective protection herd immunity. Hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized with influenza each year, and thousands or tens of thousands die from it, according to the CDC. The flu can be particularly dangerous for seniors, young children, pregnant women, and those with chronic medical conditions. They run the risk of developing severe complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Eighty-five percent of the 30 children who have died from flu this year so far were not vaccinated.

Bottom line: Make a beeline to your doctor or pharmacy post-haste if you haven't gotten your shot. This also goes for those who've already come down with the flu—it's still possible that you could become infected by yet another strain.

5. FLU CAN LIVE FOR A LEAST A DAY IN A HANDKERCHIEF. 

In addition to hand hygiene, practice tissue hygiene—and steer clear of hankies at all cost—to avoid coming down with the flu. Viruses can survive in a handkerchief for about a day and spread, and the same presumably goes for a used tissue, which is why it's important to use it just once before tossing it into the trash.

BONUS: SCIENTISTS ARE WORKING ON A UNIVERSAL FLU VACCINE.

In 2017, the NIH resolved to work towards a universal flu vaccine, designed to safeguard against all (or almost all) flu strains. More than 150 researchers have collaborated to work on the initiative, with researchers searching for rare flu targets and playing close attention to animal flu strains that might jump to humans.

Several vaccine prototypes are now entering the first stages of human safety testing. One vaccine removes the "head" of a protein coating the virus, where mutations often occur. Another alters the protein so that it's alien to the immune system, triggering a response. Yet another combines four different proteins in hopes the immune system will mount defenses against multiple strains. Ideally, a universal vaccine would be given to people when they are young to hopefully create a lifetime of protection, the NIH's Fauci told CBS News: "The vision of the field is that ultimately if you get the really good universal flu vaccine, it's going to work best when you give it to a child."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Health
The CDC Makes It Official: Public Pools Are Disgusting
iStock
iStock

Every summer, warm weather sends people across the country looking for a cool refuge in public pools, hotel pools, spas, and other water-based destinations. Before you take the plunge, you may want to heed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Jumping into a publicly-populated pool could be like bathing in someone else’s diarrhea, as Men’s Health reports.

The health agency revealed its findings in their Mortality and Morbidity Report, which explains why pools are ground zero for bacteria. Between 2000 and 2014, the CDC traced 493 outbreaks and over 27,000 cases of illness that could be connected to exposure to a public pool. The primary culprit was Cryptosporidium, a parasite found in feces that causes intestinal distress. The determined little bugs can survive for up to seven days after encountering the CDC’s recommended levels of one to three parts per million (PPM) of free chlorine. Even if the pool is being cleaned and maintained properly, Cryptosporidium can idle long enough to infect someone else. The report also indicated that Legionella (which causes Legionnaire’s disease) and Pseudomonas (responsible for ear infections and folliculitis) were found in some of the pools.

The problem is likely the result of swimmers entering the pool while suffering from an upset stomach and leaving trace fecal matter behind. The CDC recommends that you not enter a public pool if you feel unwell, that you ask for a pool inspection report if you’re concerned about the hygiene of the facility, and that you absolutely not swallow any water. The agency also recommends that any pool owner who has experienced a “diarrheal incident” in their water opt for hyperchlorination to kill bacteria.

[h/t Men’s Health]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Health
Sleeping In on Weekends May Help You Catch Up on Sleep After All
iStock
iStock

Weekend mornings are a precious time for nine-to-fivers. If you spend your weekdays staying up long past reasonable bedtime hours and waking up with the Sun, you may be tempted to sleep past noon every day off you get. Sleeping in feels great, and now a new study from sleep scientists at Stockholm University's Stress Research Institute finds that it may also be an effective way to make up for the sleep you missed during the week, contradicting previously held beliefs on the matter.

According to most sleep researchers, the only way to catch up on sleep debt is to adjust your sleeping patterns gradually over time—in other words, cramming in all the sleep you missed last week into a night or two won't cut it. A team of scientists reexamined this theory for their study published in the Journal of Sleep Research [PDF]. Researchers looked at the sleep data from about 44,000 Swedish adults collected in 1997 and followed up with the participants 13 years later. Accounting for factors like age, gender, and education, they report that adults who consistently slept for five hours or fewer throughout the week were more likely to have died after those 13 years than subjects who slept for six or seven hours, seven days a week. Oversleeping every day of the week also put participants at a greater risk of mortality.

But there's good news for people who do all their sleeping in on the weekend—subjects who under-slept five days and slept more during the last two days of the week had no greater risk of death than the people who got healthy amounts of sleep every night of the week. The results call into question past sleep studies that have only looked at sleep patterns during the week, ignoring weekend behaviors. The new study, though, focuses just on the sleeping habits of people at a specific point in time. To confirm what these results suggest, more long-term studies will need to be conducted.

Earlier mortality isn't the only health risk associated with unsatisfactory sleep habits: Getting too little or poor-quality sleep can mess with your memory, appetite, and cognitive and motor performance. That means finding time to get a good night's sleep, no matter the day of the week (if you're lucky enough to have the option), is still the healthiest course of action.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios