5 Ways the Swine Flu Will Be Different This Year

Maressa Brown

Around this time last year, we were inundated with news photos of people -- even pseudo-celebs, like Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt -- wearing surgical masks. Remember? They were guarding themselves against H1N1, or "swine flu," of course! Remember how you basically couldn't carry on a conversation with another human being without discussing "Swine Flu parties" and black market Tamiflu?

Well, one whole calendar year later ... there are "Get your flu shot" signs in my local drugstore parking lot. Some tumbleweeds. Not a whole lot of surgical masks.

But just because there isn't panic doesn't mean there isn't a threat. So, just what's going on with the Swine Flu, and what's new since the pandemic of '09?

1. There are enough vaccines this year. Last year, the H1N1 pandemic strain emerged too late to be included in the usual seasonal flu vaccine, requiring that a separate vaccine be created. So everyone ran around like chickens with their heads cut off looking for these scarce, new vaccines. This year, some 119 million doses of the seasonal flu vaccine (which protects against H1N1 and two other strains) have already been distributed. Vaccine makers will make about 180 million doses total, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. The number of cases will likely be "typical" this year. About 50 million people in the U.S. got H1N1 last year, according to CDC estimates. Children were more likely to get sick in '09, too. But experts predict fewer cases of flu this season, because people who got sick last year now have immunity. 

3. More of us will be vaccinated this year. Not only because there will be more vaccines to go around, but the CDC is betting that everyone's at least a wee bit freaked out about what happened last year. You can get your vaccine in a couple of different forms -- the nasal spray version called FluMist or LAIV, as well as the injected form. Adults older than 49 years old must get the injection.

4. There may still be room for a surprise this year. The CDC says that, this year, they're concerned with H3N2. The good news is that it's covered in this year's flu vaccine. But they do say they're not sure if, as with H1N1, a new strain could crop up down the road. "None of us have a crystal ball," said Dr. Thomas Freidan, Director of the CDC.

5. Still, the buzz has really died down this year. Exhibit A: The CDC "What's New" H1N1 website has been "archived for historical purposes." So I guess at least we know there's not enough worry to warrant an active website for updates!

What are your predictions for the 2010 flu season? Have you gotten your flu shot yet?

Image via ghinson/Flickr

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