H1N1 or “swine” flu is spreading across the south-central United States, with at least five people dying from the virus in Texas.
Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi have also reported increased levels of flu activity.
Dr. Michael Young, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division, said it is the same strain that triggered a pandemic in 2009. Unlike other types of flu, H1N1 tends to strike younger adults harder than older adults.
“This year, because it’s an H1N1 season so far, we are seeing more infections in younger adults,” Young said. “And some of these folks have underlying conditions that put them at risk for hospitalization or death. This may be surprising to some folks, because they forget the population that H1N1 hits.”
The flu vaccine protects again swine flu, and with activity peaking in January and February, Young advises those who haven’t been vaccinated yet to get a flu shot. Last year, only 45 percent of Americans got the flu shot, but the CDC recommends that everyone from six months of age and older be vaccinated.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Young recommends frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough to prevent getting or spreading the flu. He also said it is unlikely that the H1N1 flu will reach a pandemic level like it did four years ago. In 2009, there were 17,855 cases of infection and 45 deaths due to swine flu.
“When things are quiet, people tend to let their guard down,” Dr. Christopher Perkins, medical director for the Dallas County Health and Human Services, said. “But when there are a lot of bells and whistles going on, a lot of flu cases, and people hospitalized, actually some succumbing to death, then that gets a lot of attention. And we get overwhelmed with people seeking out the vaccine.”