Questions & Answers about the 2009–2010 Flu Season
What sort of flu season is expected this year?
Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, including the timing of
the beginning, severity, and length of the flu season.
This flu season (2009-2010), there are more uncertainties than usual because
of the emergence of a new 2009 H1N1
influenza virus (previously called "novel H1N1" or "swine flu") that has
caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease) in more than
Ask any doctor if you should take antibiotics for the flu, and you’ll get a
weary shake of the head and a resounding no. “Viral infections like the
flu aren’t affected by antibiotics,” says William Schaffner, MD, chairman of
the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University’s School of
Medicine in Nashville. “You might as well take a placebo.”
Instead, antiviral medication can be used to treat the viral infections like
the flu. But that is a different type of medicine than antibiotics...
Severity is uncertain. Many people do not have immune
protection against this new and very different 2009 H1N1 virus, which has
spread worldwide quickly and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization
(WHO). Scientists believe the 2009 H1N1 virus – along with regular
seasonal viruses – will cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths this flu
season in the United States. There is concern that the 2009 H1N1 virus may
cause the season to be worse than a regular flu season – with a lot more people
getting sick, being hospitalized and dying than during a regular flu
Timing is uncertain. In past years, seasonal flu activity
typically did not reach its peak in the U.S. until January or February, but flu
activity has occurred as late as May. However, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused
illness, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. during the summer months when
influenza is very uncommon. So it is not known when flu activity will increase,
when it will be most intense (peak), what viruses will circulate, or how long
the season might last.
How is severity characterized?
The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalizations and deaths) of
a flu season varies from year to year. Based on available data from U.S.
influenza surveillance systems monitored and reported by CDC, the severity of a
flu season can be judged according to a variety of criteria, including:
The level of reported activity within each state;
The number and proportion of flu laboratory tests that are positive;
The proportion of visits to physicians for flu-like illness;
The proportion of all deaths that are caused by pneumonia and flu;
The number of flu-associated deaths among children; and
The flu-associated hospitalization rate among children and adults.