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Editorial: Spike in flu cases adds to vaccination urgency

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The flu season usually peaks in February, but there has been a spike of cases already. It also appears to be hitting young people harder than normal.

Pediatric disease specialist Dr. Christopher Belcher of Carmel said, “You know, we’ve recognized for a long time that the elderly were at very high risk for hospitalization and death due to influenza. It turns out that the young children and the infants are at the same risk of hospitalization as the elderly are. So it’s important that both groups get (vaccinated), but it is important that everyone receives their influenza vaccine.”

Of considerable concern is the fact that the prevalent strain this season is H1N1, which is better known as swine flu. This is the same strain that caused the flu pandemic in 2009. During the 2009 pandemic the H1N1 virus led to 45 deaths and resulted in just under 18,000 infections.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone older than 6 months receive a flu vaccine to protect themselves.

More manufacturers are making the vaccine this year, ensuring there is enough to meet the demand, both in shot and in mist form. The latter form of the vaccine appears to work better for young children.

This year, some manufacturers have added a fourth strain of the flu virus to the vaccine. All manufacturers likely will follow suit within the next couple of years.

It is important for unvaccinated people to get a flu shot now. The shot not only protects those who get the vaccine, but others with whom the vaccinated person comes in contact.

But you can’t rely on everyone to get vaccinated. The flu can spread quickly through groups, such as a classroom. One unvaccinated youngster who contracts the flu can spread it to unprotected classmates in a very short time.

Meanwhile, experts say to work on preventing the spread of the virus. People should wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their eyes or nose and cough into their elbow.

The flu season can extend through late May, so there likely will be more spikes in flu cases before the season is over. So getting a shot now will provide months of protection.

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