The Flu? It's Just Around The Corner 

The big flu story so far this season is the potential for shortages and delays in flu vaccine shipments. The Food and Drug Administration and the national Centers for
Disease Control are working with vaccine manufacturers to ensure there is enough vaccine for the 2000-01 flu season.

While a vaccine shortage is no longer anticipated, federal health officials are recommending that healthy Americans postpone getting their shots while manufacturers overcome a lag in production.

The elderly and the chronically ill, who are at the highest risk of dying from the flu, should expect to receive flu shots in October. Healthy people may wait until November for vaccinations, according to recommendations from a CDC advisory panel. The flu season usually peaks between January and March, so a flu shot in late November should allow enough time for immunity to develop.

The government predicts that the expected of number of doses of vaccine needed this year (about 74 million) will be available but that less than half will be shipped before November.

Flu Facts

Here are some "flu basics" as outlined by the CDC:

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract. 
The virus generally spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 
Compared with other respiratory infections like the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and lead to serious and life-threatening complications in all age groups. 
Typical flu symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. Although the term stomach flu is sometimes used to describe
gastrointestinal illnesses, this is caused by other organisms and is not related to true flu. 
Most people have no side effects from the flu vaccine. Arm soreness at the injection site, sometimes associated with swelling, may occur. Some people, usually children who have not been exposed to influenza virus in the past, may have fever and body aches after vaccination. These symptoms, if they occur, usually start six to 12 hours after vaccination and can continue for one or two days. 
People with a severe allergy to eggs should not receive flu vaccination. 
Influenza viruses continually change over time, and each year the vaccine is updated to include the viruses that are most likely to circulate in the upcoming influenza season. The influenza vaccine (flu shot) that has been produced for the 2000-01 flu season contains three influenza virus strains designated A/Panama, A/New Caledonia and B/Yamanashi.
In addition to flu viruses, other respiratory organisms commonly circulate during the same period and can cause similar respiratory illness. Although some studies have shown that the flu shot may boost the immune system to decrease the frequency of other upper respiratory infections, the vaccine can only be relied upon to prevent influenza. 
The most important major groups who should receive flu vaccine are people 50 years or older; residents of nursing homes; children and teens on long-term aspirin therapy; pregnant women who will be in their second or third trimester during flu season; and people of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lung and kidneys, or who have diabetes, immunosuppression or severe forms of anemia. 
People who are in close or frequent contact with anyone in the high-risk groups listed above also need to be vaccinated. These people include health care personnel and volunteers, and people who live in a household with a high-risk person. 

Dispelling Myths

There are several common misconceptions about the flu including:

Flu is merely a nuisance. Flu is a major cause of illness and death in the United States and leads on average to approximately 20,000 deaths and more than 110,000 hospitalizations each year. 
Flu vaccine causes the flu. The licensed flu vaccine used in the United States, which is made from inactivated or killed influenza viruses, cannot cause influenza infection and does not cause influenza illness. 
Flu vaccine is not very effective. Scientists are very good at designing the vaccine to meet the predicted strains of flu virus expected each year. As long as the vaccine
matches the flu virus going around, vaccination is usually very effective. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine to be 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing illness. In older people and people with chronic disease, the percentage is lower. However, the elderly and chronically ill need the vaccine the most, because the vaccine dramatically reduces death rate and hospitalizations from complications of influenza in these patients. 


Soon, you will be able to check our interactive flu map of the United States to see how conditions are shaping up in your state, or in a state you'll be visiting. Be aware that the state-by-state influenza data, supplied by the CDC, is delayed by approximately one week.

The annual flu epidemic is expected to peak in February or March. After that, the number of cases should dwindle to practically nothing by the early summer.

Check out our interactive flu map 

Related Links: 

Fighting The Flu 
What Is Influenza?