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It's Flu Season: Do You Know Where Your Community Stands?

It's Flu Season: Do You Know Where Your Community Stands?

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

The recent snowpocalypses around the country reminded me that if you haven't taken a look at what the current flu season is like in your community, it's a good time to do so. I like how the Miami Herald's Fred Tasker set the scene for the 2010-2011 in this Q&A piece. And here's another news peg: today's announcement of the first test in humans of the so-called "universal flu vaccine," which would not need to be tailored for each year's blend of circulating influenza strains.

Here are some tips:

1. Check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's weekly flu report. This week, the CDC is reporting "widespread" activity in 15 states and "regional" activity in 15, meaning that flu season is well underway.  

2. Call your state health department for a statewide look at flu activity; you'll want to ask for the infectious disease branch or similar division. Many states provide their own weekly reports, supplementing the CDC's national snapshot, including California. Here's a list of state health department websites.

3. If you're in a state with a large Kaiser Permanente presence, call and ask to speak to the regional physician in charge of coordinating flu season activities, such as vaccinations. The large HMO/medical system is a "sentinel provider" for California, closely tracking its patient data for signs of influenza activity, and regional or statewide Kaiser "flu czars" usually have a good sense of how this year's season compares to previous years'.

4. Check flu tracking and news sites, including CIDRAP, Google Flu Trends (see some caveats about that here) and FluTracker (which focuses on H1N1/swine flu but has other information).

5. Check with local school nurses: how do flu and respiratory disease-related absences compare to last year?

Photo: o0s0o1 via Flickr

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