Why is the flu so bad this year?

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“Flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division, said during a Jan. 12 media briefing. On a map of the United States tracking flu activity, “this is the first year that we have had the entire continental U.S. be the same color,” he noted.

Only Hawaii and the District of Columbia have been spared widespread flu infection so far, according to the CDC.

Why is the flu so bad this year?

During each flu season, one or more specific types and strains of the influenza virus are responsible for causing the flu. When certain types and strains of the virus show up, it can make some flu seasons worse than others.

This flu season, H3N2 – a subtype of influenza A – has been the dominant strain. Health officials say we tend to see a worse flu season with more severe illness when H3 viruses are prominent. At this point, 80 percent of reported flu cases are this more severe strain, according to the CDC. The H3N2 strain combined with a long bout of cold, wintery weather has resulted in a very active flu season.

What about the flu shot?

While the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s still the best protection against H3N2 flu and other flu strains, such as H1N1 and B viruses which have also shown up this season. And it’s not too late to get one! If you haven’t already gotten a flu shot, we recommend doing so as soon as possible (excluding children under 6 months).

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Is there anything else I can do to avoid the flu?

Washing or sanitizing your hands frequently can go a long way in preventing the flu. You should also take these general measures to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may have respiratory infections.
  • Don’t share food, drinks or personal items (like lip balm) with anyone.
  • Don’t bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth or nose.
  • Wipe down surfaces with household disinfectant regularly.

If you do start to show symptoms, you can help others avoid getting infected by staying home from work or school.

More information

For more on the flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

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Four Low-Cost Ways to Pamper Yourself

Need a break? Instead of doing chores this weekend, pamper yourself—you’ve earned it. Here are a few simple ways to relax and recharge.

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Dip into a hobby

Hobbies are an excellent way to unwind, according to the American Institute of Stress. For instance, Tessa Morrell, an editorial manager in Nashville, Tenn., says art is her favorite way to relax.

“Creating art can be really therapeutic,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll just paint for the sake of painting with no direction or goal in mind.”

Read a book

Instead of watching TV or surfing the Internet, curl up with a book. The mental escape helps you forget your worries and keep your mind sharp. Like to talk about books? Join a book club to interact with others and discover new authors.

Spend time with friends

Remember how good it felt the last time you hung out with friends? If you can’t remember, you’re overdue for a reunion. Have lunch with a friend, invite people over for a game night or meet a pal at the mall for retail therapy.

“If I can get out of the house, a lunch date with girlfriends is always great,” says Jennifer Parker, a stay-at-home mother of two from Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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Take a hike

The wind in your hair, the sound of birds singing and the sight of spring blossoms make hiking a pleasure. As a bonus, the physical activity can relieve stress, improve mental function and make you feel better about yourself, according to the American Psychological Association. Double the fun by inviting a friend.

8 Great High-Tech Health Gadgets

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Striving to lose weight? Want to sleep better or exercise more? There are tons of gadgets and apps out there that can help. From devices that track your activity (and even your dog’s!), to sensors that give insight into your sleep patterns, to a bracelet that actually reminds you when to apply sunscreen, here are our top picks of high-tech health gadgets.

Wearable activity trackers

Brand names: Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24, Garmin vivofit, Misfit Shine and others

What they do: Track your activity day and night with a wearable fitness tracker. Most devices can track steps, sleep and calories burned. Plus — they sync with a computer or smartphone.

Approximate cost: $50-$150

Why we love them: Wearables are fun gadgets to help you increase activity throughout the day, especially if you compete with friends and family using the device’s app.

Smart scales

Brand names: Fitbug WoW, Fitbit Aria, Withings Smart Body Analyzer and others

What they do: Measure weight, body mass index, body composition and more while syncing data wirelessly to free smartphone apps.

Approximate cost: $75-$150

Why we love them: Any tool that helps make weight loss easier is on our wish list!

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Headphone headbands

Brand Names: RunPhones, Tooks Sportband, HVLO Headphones

What they do: Keep your ears toasty while you listen to your books or music on a jog.

Approximate cost: $20 – $60

Why we love them: The headphone/headband combination means one less piece of gear to fuss over. Plus — wearing a headband over regular headphones can hurt your ears.

Slouch stoppers

Brand names: Lumo Lift, iPosture and others

What they do: These monitor your posture and notify you if you’re slouching.

Approximate cost: $25-$100

Why we love them: Sitting pretty isn’t just for looks. It can help relieve back pain and stiffness caused by slouching.

Sleep sensors

Brand names: Beddit, Withings Aura Smart Sleep System, Emfit QS

What they do: Track your sleep patterns and sleep environment and send personal feedback wirelessly to your phone. Unlike wearable fitness trackers, these devices stay in the bedroom.

Approximate cost: $150 – $300

Why we love them: Wearable activity trackers may be all the rage, but if you just want better insight on your sleep, these devices are great options.

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Sun-smart bracelet

Brand name: JUNE by netatmo

What it does: Measures your sun exposure throughout the day and reminds you when to apply sunscreen or head for the shade.

Approximate cost: $100

Why we love it: No more accidental sunburns — which means younger, healthier skin.

Cool pedometers

Brand names: Striiv Smart Pedometer, Hammacher Schlemmer Smart Pedometer, MilestonePod

What they do: Track steps, distance and monitor progress over time. The Striiv doesn’t require a smartphone. Hammacher Schlemmer’s model plugs directly into your smartphone. MilestonePod syncs wirelessly to your smartphone.

Approximate cost: $25-$100

Why we love them: Unlike old-school pedometers, they provide motivating feedback and can turn getting more steps into a game.

Fido’s fitness tracker

Brand name: Whistle Activity Monitor

What it does: Tracks your pup’s daily activity with a small device that attaches to a collar and syncs to the Whistle app on your iOS or Android device.

Approximate cost: $100

Why we love it: Discovering how much our dogs actually move when we’re not around can give us insight into their health and behavior — and let us know if we need to provide more playtime. And hitting the park with your pooch is a great way to get exercise for yourself too!

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.