Even though Doctor Buddy Creech knows infectious diseases, he didn't want to know swine flu this well. "My son, who had a 104 fever for three or four days, and me, having fever for two or three days, was pretty awful," says Dr. Creech.
His up-close-and-personal relationship with the H1N1 virus was one of the first surprises in this never-ending flu season. "If you would have told me a year ago that we would have a pandemic with a strain that is evolved from two pig strains and a bird strain, I would say, 'No…if pigs could fly!'" says Dr. Kathryn Edwards.
But identifying the new flu quickly was key, and marks an important lesson - early detection. "I think the thing that we've learned most is that when we see influenza-like symptoms, even if it's the wrong time of the year, we have to pay attention to that," says Dr. Creech.
Early identification meant faster vaccine turnaround, though distribution was uneven. Also, experts say we need to consider adding immune-enhancers to the vaccine to stretch the doses. "So that let's say if you add some of these adjuvant proteins to the vaccine, you could use two micrograms of a vaccine as opposed to fifteen or thirty," says Dr. Edwards.
Ultimately, flu needs to stay on our radar because it's always changing, and the next pandemic might be more severe. "Early on, assume the worse, prepare for the worst, and then when things become more clear, we can back down on some of our, our, our, sort of full-court press on the organism," says Dr. Creech.
Keep in mind - seasonal flu season is in full swing, and there's no consensus on whether H1N1 will return in the spring. Prevention is a key flu strategy, so get both your flu shots and continue to follow good hygiene practices. And if you're sick, stay home.