'Tis the season for sharing. Unfortunately, if you are one of millions of Americans with the flu, you shared more than holiday cheer. Cases have been reported in all but a few states, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta. As of mid-December, 19 states, including Colorado, Ohio, and Washington, reported either widespread or concentrated regional flu activity. Last week, emergency rooms in Los Angeles County and New York City were forced to reroute patients to other medical centers while they dealt with rooms packed with flu patients.
The germ responsible for this year's spate of illnesses is type A Sydney, named for Sydney, Australia, where it first originated. It is a particularly robust strain: In the past, it has been associated with more deaths than other versions of flu. On average, influenza accounts for 20,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. The CDC says those numbers could be higher this year but cautions that it is too early to say for sure.
Even though the flu vaccine is only 70% effective, it is still the best bet to protect against that hit-by-a Mack-truck feeling. And health experts say that if you do succumb to the virus after vaccination, your symptoms may be milder. Even though the flu season is under way, it's still not too late to go get that shot--immunity builds up in about two weeks, according to Kristine Smith of the New York State Health Dept. If all else fails, try grandma's favorite remedy: chicken soup.