Winter is flu season, and there is a new strain about. Seasonal flu is a problem for everyone, but it’s especially dangerous for young children and people over age 65, who are most at risk. Other people who need to be particularly on guard against influenza are people living in crowded conditions, as well as health care workers, teachers, and anyone else who is in contact with people who have or are at risk for flu. In addition, people with weakened immune systems, due to medications or other illnesses, and the chronically ill are vulnerable, as are pregnant women.
One of the simplest ways to avoid flu germs this season is hand-washing. Washing after coming in from outside, handling dirty dishes and other leaving, using public transportation, and as soon as politeness will allow after shaking hands with people—as well as after spending significant amounts of time with young children—can go a long way towards preventing the spread of influenza virus. That means twenty seconds, with soap, under the hottest water tolerable. Keeping surfaces, particularly surfaces where work is done or food is prepared or eaten, is also important.
Another way to cut down the spread of flu is with vaccination. Th flu vaccine is safe for most adults and children older than six months—though anyone with an egg allergy or a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome should not get vaccinated—and is available at most pharmacies, and chains often provide it at a discount. Many larger workplaces have vaccination drives to encourage employees to be protected. That’s because sick leave and lost productivity due to flu costs businesses millions of dollars every year.
Researchers have gotten new insight into the way influenza and other infectious diseases spread thanks to new technology. Even without requiring the use of anyone’s private information, social media and the internet generally provide an excellent laboratory to explore group behavior among humans. This winter, scientists are debuting the use of Wikipedia browsing data to predict the spread of flu in the United States. Their results are based on a three-year study that looked at page views for Wikipedia articles about diseases and the spread of those diseases in various countries.