If we don't take the right precautions, odds are that up to one in five of us will catch the flu in any given flu season.
For most of us, having the flu means suffering at home for a week or two, then pulling ourselves out of bed to get on with our lives as usual. But the flu can be serious, even deadly, particularly for anyone with a health condition like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system. Depending on the severity of the flu season, between 3, 000 and 49,000 people die from the flu each year.
The H1N1 swine flu virus appeared in the U.S. in April 2009 and never went away. After sweeping the globe, U.S. H1N1 swine flu cases surged as schools opened in the fall. What is H1N1 swine flu? What can we do about it? WebMD answers your questions.
What is swine flu?
What are swine flu symptoms?
Who is at highest risk of H1N1 swine flu?
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Before the flu can knock you out, you can deliver the first punch. These proven prevention strategies can help you avoid flu germs. Here are ways to fight back if the flu tries to take you down.
Experts say the single best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in your area. The ideal time to get your flu shot is early fall. But any time during the winter is fine if you haven't already gotten it.
The vaccine is engineered to protect against the flu strains health experts believe will be most widespread each season -- including the H1N1 "swine flu," if it's currently circulating.
The flu "shot" contains a killed virus. It's approved for people ages 6 months and older.
The nasal spray -- FluMist -- contains a live, but weakened form of the virus. It's approved for anyone between the ages of 2 and 49 who is healthy and not pregnant.
Don't try to make excuses for skipping the flu vaccine. Your arm might be a little sore the next day. And you may feel a little achy or run a low fever afterward. But you can't catch the flu from the vaccine because it contains a weakened or killed form of the virus.
Build a Germ Barrier
The flu virus is easily passed from one person to the next. You can catch it anytime a nearby sick person sneezes or coughs in your direction. When that happens, the person sends a spray of virus-laden droplets straight for your open mouth or nose.
Or, you can pick up the flu virus from touching a surface -- like the restaurant table where a sick person dined before you. Flu germs can linger on surfaces for up to eight hours.
When you touch a contaminated surface and then put your hands on your eyes, nose, or mouth, your fingers transport the germs straight into your body.
You can try to avoid sick people, but that's not always easy to do, especially when you're in close quarters like movie theaters and malls. If you can't steer clear of the virus, at least use good hygiene to create a barrier against flu germs.