Influenza, All You Need to Know

Influenza

It’s that time of the year again; the leaves are changing colour and our noses are runnier. We can’t do much about the leaves, but we can protect ourselves and others from Seasonal Influenza.

What Is Influenza?

Influenza refers to illnesses and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a number of different influenza viruses. Typical symptoms are fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue. Annual outbreaks usually occur during the late fall through early spring.

How to Protect Yourself and Others?

The best prevention for influenza is getting vaccinated. An influenza vaccine not only provides protection for an individual, it also helps protect vulnerable populations that are at a higher risk of complications.

These “high risk” groups include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children 5 years of age and younger
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • People with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes

Receiving an influenza vaccine is particularly important if you work in a high-risk environment such as a hospital. As you can be infectious with the influenza virus for up to 24 hours before displaying symptoms, you could inadvertently spread influenza before you become sick with symptoms. The seasonal influenza vaccine is extremely safe for everyone, including pregnant women and children. Learn more about vaccination here. Other ways to help protect yourself and others from getting influenza include:

  • Staying home from work if you have influenza-like symptoms
  • Regularly washing your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Coughing and sneezing into your sleeve or a tissue

What if I Get Sick?  

If you have influenza-like symptoms you should:

  • Stay home, drink clear fluids
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid close contact with others

If you have significant influenza symptoms or are in one of the high risk groups (see above), you should see your health care provider, preferably within the first 48 hours, to see if you are eligible for antiviral medications. If you are taking care of someone at home who has influenza remember to protect yourself and others in the household.

What Is Pandemic Influenza Again?

Pandemic influenza refers to a novel influenza A virus for which there is little or no immunity in the human population. Because it is a novel virus, it takes approximately 6 months to develop an effective vaccine. A pandemic influenza virus can cause serious illness and spreads easily from person-to-person worldwide. The most recent example of a pandemic influenza was in 2009, caused by the novel H1N1 (swine) virus.

Google Flu Trends Outlook for British Columbia: Moderate

 

Google Flu TrendsGoogle Flu Trends is a very powerful tool that can predict the severity of the upcoming flu season with frightening accuracy. Using Flu Trends we can monitor flu activity in real-time, often ahead of reporting agencies. At this time Google Flu trends is reporting a flu activity to range from low to moderate throughout Canada. Explore Google Flu Trends

Further Information on the flu may be found here. 

 

What Will the 2013 Flu Season Bring?

Before we get into this season’s flu trends, it’s worth learning a little bit about influenza.

What Is Influenza?

Influenza refers to illnesses and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a number of different influenza viruses. Typical symptoms are fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue. Annual outbreaks of seasonal influenza usually occur during the late fall through early spring.

Have a look at our post: Seasonal Influenza, A Helpful Reminder to learn how to protect yourself influenza and what to do if you become sick.

2013 Flu Trends

2013 Flu Season

2013 flu season (dark blue) compared to the past six years.

By looking at data gathered by Google so far this year, we can see that 2013 is beginning to look like one of the worst flu seasons in recent years. Compared to the previous 6 years, this season is only overshadowed by the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. Unfortunately, it is still to early to determine if flu cases will continue to rise.

By using millions of data points, Google Flu Trends is able to determine (with a high-level of accuracy) how big of an impact the flu is having on a seasonal basis.

This data is important because it can show flu queries in real-time, often weeks ahead of reporting agencies.

Flu season

Comparing flu search results throughout Canada.

How does Google Flu Trends Work? (excerpt from Google)

Each week, millions of users around the world search for health information online. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer.

Flu trends

Google Flu Trends compared to Public Health Agency of Canada records.

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world. 

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As you can see, Google Flu Trends is a very powerful tool that can predict the severity of the upcoming flu season with frightening accuracy. Given the intensity of the flu in 2013, it is as important as ever to get vaccinated. Learn more about vaccination here: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vs-sv/vs-faq17-eng.php

Go explore Google Flu Trends yourself!