Could the latest flu season be a repeat of particularly deadly outbreaks in past years?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fear as much. With flu hitting Southern states early this year, the public health agency has predicted a severe flu season nationwide — possibly as bad as in 2003-04, one of the deadlier flu seasons in recent decades with more than 48,000 deaths.
More recently, the 2009-10 H1N1 flu situation was both unusual and alarming in causing severe complications and death among groups of people not ordinarily at such high risk, including young adults and pregnant women. It killed some 17,000 people.
Every flu season is deadly. While the actual toll of influenza-related deaths can vary widely from year to year, the flu on average kills about 24,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC.
The CDC also notes that each year it's impossible to know when flu activity will increase, when it will be most intense, what viruses will circulate or how long a flu season might last. That's why it's necessary to be vigilant.
Considering flu activity in Kansas usually peaks in January and February, there's still plenty of time for people to get a flu shot. They're recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
Good health habits also help ward off the flu. Covering coughs and hand-washing to help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu are simple practices that make sense year-round.
Hand-washing has to be more than a quick rinse, which means using soap and scrubbing vigorously for at least 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, local health officials, school districts and other entities are doing what they can to prepare for another flu season.
By individually practicing healthy habits and taking advantage of a flu vaccine — one that appears well-matched to strains of the virus seen so far this year — everyone can at least lessen their chances of being stricken by flu we know is on the way.
Getting vaccinated and using common sense are proven to be effective weapons against the flu — but not if they aren't used.