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msnbc.com

The flu season started early this year: Since September, 49 states have reported influenza A outbreaks. Due to a particularly “robust” strain of the virus, pneumonia and flu deaths are above expected levels for this time of year. But you can still take steps to prevent the pesky bug. MSNBC guides you to the best resources for protecting yourself and your family from this year’s epidemic.

Here are the expert’s tips for flu sites to help you this year:

Brought to you by the government agency that monitors epidemics around the United States, the CDC’s information-packed site offers all the facts on the flu and flu shots. As it reveals, influenza infection often causes a more severe illness than most other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold. There’s information on what symptoms to watch out for — fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as headache, muscle aches, and often extreme fatigue. Also, anyone planning to travel should consult the site; there’s an entire section on “Preventing influenza infection among travelers” as well as a “Worldwide flu activity.” And remember this tip: Although nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can sometimes accompany the flu, especially in children, gastrointestinal symptoms are rarely prominent. The term “stomach flu” is actually a misnomer that is sometimes used to describe gastrointestinal illnesses caused by other microorganisms.

FluNet
Coordinated by the World Health Organization, FluNet links National Influenza Centers throughout the world — of crucial importance in this day of international travel. You can query their data base, with immediate feedback of information about worldwide outbreaks.

National Flu Surveillance Network: The Early Influenza Warning Network
The National Flu Surveillance Network offers an immediate hands-on tool for you — as well as your doctor — to actually track the spread of flu and identify outbreak zones in your region. You’ll know where flu is striking, in real time, so you can alert your family and friends to the danger and enlist the latest in diagnostic tests and anti-viral medications to ease the impact of the disease. The site is sponsored by the makers of ZstatFlu, a rapid flu test that the company says can detect the disorder with 99 percent accuracy while the patient waits. One particularly cool feature: Just sign up, and the latest flu activity will be delivered to you by e-mial.

Influenza 1918
The worst epidemic the United States has ever known is brought to you on this well designed site, courtesy of the Public Broadcasting System. This multimedia site brings you films, features, timelines and maps of the outbreak that killed more Americans than all the combat deaths of this century combined. There’s even a teacher’s guide.

Influenza (Flu Facts for Children Including Flu Shot Recommendations)
Brought to you by pediatrician Dr. Arnold Solof of Vineland Pediatrics, the site offers all the facts on the flu, with an emphasis on children. Among some little known FAQs that apply to the younger set:

Which youngsters should get the flu shot?

Yearly flu shots are recommended for children six months of age and older with one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Children with asthma and other chronic pulmonary diseases
  • Children with significant heart disease
  • Children with sickle cell anemia and other hemoglobinopathies
  • Children receiving immunosuppressive drugs (i.e. children being treated for cancer or who are receiving prolonged courses of steroids)
  • Children with HIV infection
  • Children with diabetes and other chronic metabolic diseases
  • Children with chronic renal diseases
  • Children on long-term aspirin therapy

Close contacts of high-risk patients. Immunization of persons who are in close contact with high-risk children may be an important means of protection for these children, especially for infants younger than 6 months of age for whom the flu vaccine is not recommended. Household contacts, including siblings and primary caretakers of high-risk children, should be immunized.

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