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Flu season about to begin

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Flu season is right around the corner, and vaccine makers have already distributed more than 100 million flu shots. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens takes a look at what’s ahead and what health officials learned from last season’s flu pandemic:

Health officials expect that the H1N1, or swine, flu will return from last year, and this year’s vaccine protects against it and two other strains.

George DiFerdinando, a public health professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, says he expects a normal flu season. The pandemic was called off last spring after the virus seemed to fizzle out, and take a smaller toll than expected. DiFerdinando considers the response to last year’s flu pandemic a success, because many people got vaccinated and improved their hand washing.

DiFerdinando: I think it’s fair to say some people felt that we made too much of last year’s pandemic. In the public health community I’m certain that people don’t feel that way. But I suspect in the general community people say, well gee, you made a big noise and there wasn’t as much as we expected.

About 18,000 people in the US died from the swine flu. DiFerdinando says the big noise from health officials may have saved lives.

Karyl Rattay, the head of Delaware’s public health division, says the hype was appropriate for a new type of flu. But there were lessons learned: after measuring vaccination rates, Rattay says it became clear health officials didn’t reach Hispanics and African Americans as well as whites.

Rattay: And that to us is making us take a look at our communication and outreach strategy in the hopes that next time around we can do a much better job in terms of reaching other populations.

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