In an effort to reduce the burden of influenza, the World Health Organization Global Influenza Surveillance Network (WHO GISN) tracks and analyzes the epidemiology and antigenic specificity (or surface protein characteristics) of circulating influenza viruses in order to figure out which strains are appropriate vaccine candidates (Russell 2008; Ravin 2012).
According to experts, vaccination is the most effective and least expensive intervention for preventing influenza (Cao 2011). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all individuals over the age of 6 months be vaccinated yearly (CDC 2012b). However, vaccination does not guarantee flu prevention (Lang 2012; Ornskov Pedersen 2012; Osterholm 2012). Public health agencies must correctly determine which influenza strains are likely to be most prevalent during upcoming flu seasons. Strains thought unlikely to cause an outbreak in the coming season are not included in vaccines. Sometimes one of the strains not included in the vaccine can unexpectedly cause an outbreak and the population will not be protected (Ambrose 2012; Allsup 2001).
Other important non-pharmaceutical interventions for preventing influenza can be recalled by using the acronym “WHACK”, as in “WHACK the Flu” (Stebbins 2011; Yardley 2011; Mayo Clinic 2011):
W ash or sanitize your hands frequently.
H ome is where you should be when you are sick.
A void touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
C over your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow.
K eep your distance from sick people when possible or wear a mask.
In addition to avoiding those infected with influenza, the CDC also recommends all linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by sick individuals be thoroughly washed in a dishwasher or by hand with soap and water prior to being used by anyone else (CDC 2011a).