Many Americans will be ringing in the new year with the flu. CDC officials know the strains that are making the rest of the country sick, and we here in California can take steps to protect ourselves.
The CDC is reporting widespread flu-infection rates in several states, including Alabama, Louisiana and New York. Texas has been the hardest hit, with at least five deaths from the H1N1 strain, also known as "swine flu."
"The majority of hospitalizations for influenza occur in people 65 years of age or older, and the majority of deaths are also in that group," said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer with the CDC's Influenza Division. "But we know that H1N1, this particular influenza virus, does cause more infections in younger adults."
H1N1 first made headlines in 2009, causing a pandemic the CDC says infected 52 million people. But this year thanks to the flu vaccine, officials say Americans will be better protected, and it's not too late to get one.
"Every formulation of vaccine that you can get this year will protect against H1N1, and it also protects against other influenza viruses that we think are also circulating," said Dr. Jhung.
Besides vaccination, doctors say the best way to protect yourself is with frequent hand-washing, and covering your mouth when you cough using your elbow. And if you're sick, stay home and keep kids with the flu home from school.
Health officials expect the flu to peak in February. The vaccine takes two weeks to become effective, so experts say the sooner people get their vaccine the better.