In spring of 2009, a novel influenza virus first caused illness in Mexico and then in the United States. It was not long after those initial reports that the “swine flu,” so named because it was related to a respiratory disease in pigs, was reported in Illinois and around the country. Later renamed H1N1 flu, the virus was so prolific in its spread that by June the World Health Organization signaled a global pandemic was underway. At the time, more than 70 counties had reported laboratory confirmed cases of H1N1 flu. That total now stands at more than 200 countries and overseas territories or communities with at least 11,500 deaths.
The first confirmed case of H1N1 flu in Illinois was reported in late April. Hundreds of cases of H1N1 flu followed and, for a period of time, the state had reported the highest number of cases in the U.S. Unlike seasonal flu, which is usually active in the fall and winter, H1N1 flu continued to circulate in the nation and in Illinois throughout the summer.
A second wave of H1N1 influenza began in the fall and the state’s H1N1 caseload climbed to more than 2,500 cases and 79 deaths by the end of the year. The H1N1 influenza vaccine began arriving in Illinois in early October and the state started vaccinations of those identified as most at risk of the novel flu – pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact, all people from 6 months through 24 years of age and persons 25 to 64 years of age who have health conditions associated with a higher risk of medical complications from influenza. As more H1N1 vaccine became available, beginning December 15, the vaccine was made available to all who wanted it.
Complicating the H1N1 flu resurgence in the fall was the threat of seasonal flu, which typically occurs between October and April. Seasonal flu is responsible for about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. Illinois usually records about 2,600 flu and pneumonia deaths per year, making it the 10th leading cause of death.
The most important way to protect oneself from seasonal flu and H1N1 flu is to follow some simple, common sense steps.
The single best way to protect against the seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, starting in September when yearly flu vaccinations usually become available. In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu should get vaccinated. In addition to the seasonal flu vaccination, this year there is an H1N1 flu vaccine.
Besides the vaccinations, everyone should also practice good hygiene. Remember the 3 Cs: Clean – wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs; Cover – your cough and sneeze with a tissue or sleeve, not your hand; and Contain – contain your germs, stay home if you are sick.
So, remember: Don’t Get the Flu. Don’t Spread the Flu. Get Vaccinated.
Flu prevention is as easy as 1-2-3: 1 seasonal flu shot, 2 H1N1 flu shots and the 3 Cs – Clean, Cover, Contain.
For the most up-to-date information about the flu, frequently visit this Web site or go to www.ready.illinois.gov or www.flu.gov.