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Flu Season Looks Normal This Year, Experts Say

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- This winter will not be a repeat of last year's H1N1 pandemic and instead is turning out to be a more typical flu season, experts say.

And that means it is not too late to get a flu shot, advice that seniors in particular should heed since the prevalent strain this time around tends to hit their age group the hardest, the experts added. The H1N1 flu virus tended to strike the young.

Over the past several weeks, flu has started to spread throughout the South and to parts of the Northeast, particularly New York City. Fortunately, this year's vaccine is well-matched to the circulating strains of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is the flu season, and we should expect activity to pick up in certain areas," said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. "We expect activity to pick up through January and February."

Other hot spots around the country include Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Oklahoma, according to the CDC.

Among the types of flu circulating there is a little H1N1, but the H3N2 A strain is the most prevalent so far, Skinner said.

"It's not too late to get your flu shot. The manufacturers have produced over 160 million doses of vaccine, so there's plenty of vaccine out there," he noted.

"We do have the H3N2 circulating, and that tends to affect the elderly more," Skinner explained. But the other strains hit old and young, and "the bottom line is the flu can affect anybody," he said.

"For the first time, we are recommending that everybody over the age of 6 months get vaccinated," he added.

Flu expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City, said "people may be confused because last year it was a very early flu season, which is typical of a pandemic."

This year's flu strains are those that most people do have some immunity to, he said. "They don't tend to peak until midwinter -- the end of January and February."

With H3N2 the predominant strain, Siegel expects to see more elderly patients than last year -- and more deaths. H3N2 tends to cause more pneumonia and other complications than other forms of flu, he added.

"Last year, there were 10,000 deaths compared to the normal 34,000," he said. "The age distribution of deaths this year will be back to the elderly."

In Europe, the H1N1 strain is the predominant strain, Siegel noted.

"So much of the U.S. population was vaccinated against H1N1 last year and so much immunity developed as the thing spread like wildfire, that's the reason the predominate strain is H3N2 -- it's all about immunity," he said.

Siegel thinks everyone should get vaccinated and it's not too late to do so.

"There is plenty of time to take it," he stressed. "Now is the time to take it, because it becomes effective in about two or three weeks, and you will have stronger immunity than if you took it back in August."

More information

For more information on flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Marc Siegel, M.D., associate professor, medicine, New York University, New York City; Tom Skinner, spokesman, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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