By Victor Montour
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu like symptoms are picking up steam and we have yet to hit the peak of flu season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports widespread flu activity in 29 states, primarily in the South and Midwest. That’s twice as many states as the previous week. Thirteen states reported high levels of influenza-like illnesses, while another six states saw moderate activity.
Most of the patients who have been hospitalized with severe cases of the flu are either very young or the very old.
Health experts say part of the problem is that this year’s vaccine doesn’t provide protection for the H3N2, the strain of the influenza that’s currently making the rounds. This year’s vaccine does help protect against H1N1 and one or two strains of influenza B.
Because the H3N2 is dominating this flu season, we should expect more people to come down with the flu. There might be reduced protection as opposed to zero protection from the flu vaccine. However, the CDC and other health experts still recommend people go for the vaccine. At a minimum, the vaccine may prevent a more severe case of the flu if you happen to be one of the unlucky people this season who develop flu or flu like symptoms. Remember the vaccine will also protect against other strains of the flu that are still floating around.
The CDC says anyone who develops symptoms of the flu should contact their doctor immediately. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) are two prescription antiviral drugs currently on the market that can actually lessen the time of acute illness by two days if taken early on in the flu illness.
Signs and symptoms of flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
How the flu spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
Period of contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
How serious is the flu
The Flu is unpredictable and how severe it is can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including:
- what flu viruses are spreading,
- how much flu vaccine is available
- when vaccine is available
- how many people get vaccinated, and
- How well the flu vaccine is matched to flu viruses that are causing illness.
Complications of flu
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women; people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease are all so at greater risk. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
To learn more about your risk go to: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm
Health habits can help stop the flu
Practicing good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. Below is a small list to help guide you in preventing the spread of this year’s Influenza.
- Avoid close contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Clean your hands
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
This year 100% of the clinical team at Front Range Hospice has received the influenza vaccine. We will always do our part to protect our patients, staff and the communities we serve.
If you would like more information about Front Range Hospice or Influenza call 303-957-3101 or 970-776-8080 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch out for our next blog on the Norovirus