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The next flu season: What's in store for us

Remember H1N1? You couldn't open a newspaper or read a blog last year without coming across some sort of information on this particularly nasty bug, which the CDC says infected about 61 million Americans between April 2009 and April 2010. But, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle today, experts are predicting something quite different for our next flu season:

Global health officials declared the swine flu pandemic officially over last week. And epidemiologists say the Bay Area and the rest of the United States probably will see a normal flu season this year - that means two or three strains will circulate, probably starting around midwinter.

The swine flu - a form of influenza Type A, subtype H1N1 - will almost certainly be one of those strains, but it won't necessarily be the predominant strain and it isn't expected to spread as widely as it did last year. That's because so many people either were vaccinated and are protected or were infected by the virus last year and are now immune to it.

Stanford infectious disease specialist David Lewis, MD, predicts that future H1N1 cases will "probably behave more like our usual annual epidemic of flu," and health officials are still encouraging people to get the seasonal vaccine. Experts also defend the fact that they prepared for the worst (though the worst never happened) last year:

"There are people who believe there was an overreaction (to swine flu). I think they're simply wrong," [Art Reingold, MD, head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley] said. "People can be smart in retrospect, but no one could have known a year and a half ago how this would turn out."

Epidemiologists said the swine flu pandemic was a good dress rehearsal for future pandemics, involving deadlier influenza strains and a need for a quick, efficient public health response.

Previously: H1N1 has peaked but will it return?
Photo by U.S. Government

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