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Issue 77: What's New With the Flu?

Since this new strain of flu virus, the H1N1, reared its ugly head and was first detected in the United States in April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been posting updates on the flu situation. One of the most recent updates indicates that H1N1 is still alive and well and circulating throughout our nation.

It’s still early in the flu season, but visits to doctors for flu-like symptoms continue to increase in some areas of our country, with higher than average levels for this time of year. Additionally, hospitalization rates are on the upswing, too, compared to what is normative for this time of year. Interestingly, hospitalizations for those of younger ages—children 5-17 and adults 18-49—exceed average flu season rates as well.

The CDC says that 37 states report present widespread influenza activity, which is also highly unusual for this time of year. Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

Perhaps your state is one in the lineup.

The first of the flu vaccinations are arriving, too, but nearly one-third of the parents in an Associated Press poll don’t want their kids to be vaccinated against this circulating flu strain. Parents cite concern about the effects of the vaccine and a belief that this flu strain isn’t any worse than the regular flu.

This flu, however, can turn deadly—“death by cytokine storm” says The Scripps Research Institute. In an illustrated overview, Scripps explains why and how this new flu strain attacks the lungs and sometimes results in death.

They explain that moist air joins with the flu virus and turns lung cells into virus-making factories. This viral invasion pushes the body’s immune system to stop the infection by destroying those compromised cells without destroying the host first.

White blood cells go into high gear, attempting to kill the flu virus. T-cells join in and produce a deluge of cytokines, which cause inflammation. This aggressive response can cause the lungs to become unable to exchange oxygen, and that can lead to death.

John Cannell, M.D., executive director of the Vitamin D Council, says that virologists are concerned with three aspects of any flu viruses: novelty, transmissibility and lethality. Cannell says the current H1N1 strain is, indeed, novel since we don’t have any antibodies to this strain. It’s easily transmitted, too, but its lethality is low, with the exception of Mexico. Cannell believes the lethality of this strain is still anyone’s guess, since a virus’ lethality can change over a short period of time—weeks to months.

As we enter the winter months—notoriously known as flu season—you may want to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent the flu. That includes staying as healthy as possible, washing your hands often, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoiding others who are sick and staying home if you are ill. 


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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