The New Flu: Are You At Risk?

cold medication tissues and thermometer
Last year was the mildest flu season on record. However, experts are warning that the 2012 flu season is likely to be more serious.

“People cannot become complacent this year,” said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Influenza strains constantly evolve, and some cause more illness than others. For example, two new strains of flu have begun circling the globe, and last year’s flu shot won’t offer protection against them.

One of the strains includes a new H3N2 strain, which tends to be harsher than other flu types.

So, what can you do?

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The good news is that vaccines have been updated accordingly, and government reports are showing that they are working well to fight against these new strains. Only one ingredient in this year’s flu vaccine was retained from last year’s, protection against the H1N1 strain that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic and has been the main kind of influenza circulating since. Also new in the 2012 shot is protection against a different Type B strain.

The bad news? Adults are still not getting vaccinated, particularly in the black community. A yearly vaccination is still the most recommended method of protection for nearly everybody. New figures show that last year, while 52 percent of children, only 39 percent of adults were immunized.

Seniors & The Flu

Seniors are at especially high risk of severe illness or death if they catch the flu, but just 66 percent of them were immunized, a number that has been slowly dropping for several years.

Older adults got a little lost in the recent public health push to explain that flu vaccine benefits all ages — and it’s time to target them again, said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a flu specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The only ones who shouldn’t get vaccinated: babies younger than 6 months and people with severe allergies to the eggs used to make the vaccine.

What else do you need to know about the 2012 flu season?

Manufacturers are expected to make about 135 million doses of flu vaccine this year, and there are four different forms to choose from:

  • The traditional flu shot is for all ages and people with high-risk health conditions.
  • FluMist, the squirt-up-the-nose version, is for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who aren’t pregnant.
  • A high-dose shot is available for people 65 and older.
  • The intradermal shot — a skin-deep prick instead of the usual inch-long needle — is available for 18- to 64-year-olds.
  • The vaccine is covered by insurance, and Medicare and some plans don’t require a copay; drugstore vaccination programs tend to charge about $30.

People can be vaccinated anytime, but Jernigan cautioned that it takes about two weeks for protection to kick in. Flu typically starts to appear in October or November, and peaks in January or February.

Also this year, public health groups are urging workers in doctors’ offices, hospitals and particularly nursing homes, where patients are especially vulnerable, to do a better job getting vaccinated.

The 7 Best Flu Foods

Young woman drinking hot beverage

When you have the flu, you may not feel like eating anything at all. Or, you may resort to eating things that your body doesn’t need. The problem? While your body is busy fighting off viruses, it needs support to do its job. What’s one primary source of that support? Nutrition.

But what are the best flu foods that help increase your body’s defenses, while replenishing your system?

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Hot Tea

Green, oolong, and black tea offer disease-fighting antioxidants. Also, breathing in the steam can help relieve congestion. Add a spoonful of honey and lemon slices to help detoxify your system and soothe a sore throat. If caffeine bothers you, opt for decaf or herbal versions.

Turkey

Turkey is a good, lean protein, essential to solid nutrition. And although you may not feel like it, eating can help give your body energy to fight illness. Try adding cranberry sauce for a spike of flavor and comfort-food taste.

Popsicles

An icy popsicle can soothe a sore or dry throat. It can also help keep you hydrated, which is essential when fighting the flu. Getting enough fluids can keep mucus thin and help lessen congestion. Look for popsicles made from 100% fruit juice to make sure you’re getting vital nutrients and not just sugar water.

Vegetable Juice

Making and eating a salad may be more than your weakened body can handle. Instead, try drinking a glass of low-sodium vegetable juice, which is filled with immune-boosting antioxidants. If you’re craving something sweeter, try 100% fruit juice.

Chicken Soup

Nourishing and hydrating, there’s also some scientific evidence that chicken soup may help with healing and have mild anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have found that hot chicken soup can improve the ability of cilia, the tiny hair-like parts of the nasal passages, to protect the body from bacteria and viruses.

Crackers/Toast

If you can manage food, try toast or crackers. They can be convenient foods when you’re fighting illness. Plus, they pair well with chicken noodle soup, and their satisfying crunch can take the edge off hunger when your stomach is having trouble with other types of food.

Garlic

If you feel up to it, garlic can be a good thing to try, particularly in chicken soup. It appears to have antimicrobial and immune-stimulating properties and may give you slight relief from congestion.