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2012 - 2013 Flu

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Updated January 22, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The 2012 - 2013 flu season got off to an earlier than usual start when flu activity starting to increase significantly in November 2012.

2012 - 2013 Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms for the 2012-13 season have been similar to those of most flu seasons. Common flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion

The most common flu strain we have seen this flu season has been a strain of the H3N2 influenza A virus. This particular strain has historically been a little more severe than some other strains of the virus. The last time it was the predominant strain of influenza making people sick was during the 2003 - 04 season which also started early and was fairly significant as far as severity.

Most people who have had the flu this year have experienced symptoms that have lasted between 7 and 10 days. In milder flu seasons, symptoms may last as few as 3 or 4 days but that hasn't been the case for most people during the 2012-13 flu season.

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Flu Activity

We don't see a peak to flu season most years until February or March, but flu activity during the 2012 - 2013 season started to increase dramatically in November in several parts of the country. It started in the Southeastern US and New York, spreading to more states in December. By early January, 47 out of 50 states were reporting widespread flu activity to the CDC.

For up to date information about flu activity in your area right now, see:

Treatment

Luckily for many people, the two commonly prescribed antiviral drugs used to treat the flu - Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamavir) - are both effective against the strains of influenza causing illness during the 2012 - 2013 flu season. These medications are often used for people in high risk groups to reduce the severity of their symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.

However, if you don't fall into a high risk category your health care provider may not prescribe Tamiflu. If you aren't able to get an antiviral medication or choose not to, there are still steps you can take to relieve your symptoms. Although none of these remedies will help you get over the illness any faster, they may help you feel a little less miserable.

Flu Vaccine

A lot of time and research goes into figuring out which strains of influenza to include in the flu vaccine each year. Most years the vaccine is a pretty close match to the strains of influenza that make people sick but sometimes despite all of the research, the vaccine is not a good match and doesn't provide much protection.

Fortunately, the vaccine is a good match for the 2012 - 2013 flu season. There are two strains of influenza A in the vaccine (one type of H1N1 and one type of H3N2) and one strain of influenza B. The strain of H3N2 influenza that is in the vaccine is a good match to the strain of H3N2 that is causing a majority of illness in the United States.

There have also been two influenza B strains causing illness during the 2012 - 2013 flu season. One of the strains is a good match to the flu vaccine but the other is not. Fewer influenza B cases have been identified than influenza A cases, so there is a good chance you will be protected if you got the flu vaccine but if you happen to get the strain of influenza B that is not in the vaccine, it may not provide the protection that it would if you were exposed to a covered strain.

According to estimates by the CDC, the flu vaccine is about 62% effective at protecting people from the flu for the 2012 - 2013 season. This may not sound very high, but it is actually very good coverage for a flu vaccine. It's definitely not perfect, but it's the best we have right now.

Sources

CDC Update: Flu Season and Vaccine Effectiveness. Press Briefing Transcript 11 Jan 13. CDC Newsroom. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 16 Jan 13.

Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView. Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 11 Jan 13. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 16 Jan 13.

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