Now that the summer is winding to a close, we can all start getting ready for flu season. Only problem is, it's come early this year. Influenza-like illnesses are on the rise in both Britain and the United States. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reporting that influenza-like illnesses have been on the rise in the U.S. for the last six weeks and while the numbers of influenza hospitalizations are similar or below regular flu season levels, it's still higher than expected for this time of year. Currently, 26 U.S. states are reporting widespread influenza activity. Across the pond in England, numbers of estimated cases are at 14,000 people, which is 5,000 more cases than the previous week. Swine flu continues to affect every age group, with 79 reported outbreaks in English schools since the start of the fall term with 39 of those occurring in two areas and 49 pediatric deaths in America (pediatric medicine covers infants to adolescents). Swine flu also remains is a major concern for people with severe underlying medical conditions, such as leukemia, and expectant mothers. Swine flu vaccines are of course being prepared to be rolled out later this year, with the WHO estimating production capacity at 3 billion doses per year. Thankfully, clinical trails indicate that only one dose is necessary to give immunity to older children and adults, but 3 billion doses per year still doesn't cover the 6.8 billion people walking the earth right now. Given that many countries are reliant upon vaccine donations, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States have pledged vaccine donations for developing countries. Understandably, the WHO is open to similar contributions and support from other countries. On a sadder note, a telephone survey carried out by Consumer Reports found that only 34% of U.S. Adults would definitely get vaccinated. Furthermore, only 35% said they plan to have their child vaccinated, with 14% decidedly against the idea of vaccinating their child. Of all the people who are currently undecided or opposed to getting vaccinations 63% said they wanted to build 'natural immunities'. This is, unfortunately, a tragic misunderstanding with potentially fatal consequences, according to Dr. John Santa, the director of health ratings for Consumer Reports, "[y]our body produces exactly the same antibodies, whether it's from a 'natural' infection or from a vaccine[.]" While the vaccine is still in the mail, let's take a quick moment to reflect on what we can all do to help us, and those around us, not get infected. Wash your hands! With Soap! Let's be clear now, running half a second's worth of water over your hands and not even glancing at the soap dispenser accomplishes absolutely nothing. Given that influenza is communicable either by direct person-to-person transmission (the genius next to you on the bus is coughing and sneezing on you), or through surface contact (someone sneezes on an object, then you touch the object and then your face), it's always a good time to wash your hands. It is also important that if you're going to cough or sneeze that you cover your mouth. While this may seem like a simple enough thing to do, most people just don't do it. If you're going to use a tissue to cover your face when coughing or sneezing, cover your face with it and then make sure to throw the tissue away. Carrying around a tissue filled with germs isn't good for anyone and it sort of makes you a disease vector. Should you not have a tissue at hand, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow. Given that the influenza virus can survive on the surface of objects, if have the flu and you cough all over your hands and don't wash them immediately, you're basically spreading the virus to every object you touch after that. Trust me, that's a bad thing. Please take care as we come closer to the regular flu season, especially now that children have gone back to school. It is important that we all make an effort to stay clean and not get sick, please, for the sake of us all, make sure that you know how to wash your hands and cover your face properly. More importantly, put your knowledge into practice. Stay safe, I'm off to wash my hands.