Influenza activity in the United States continues to remain high with nearly every state, including Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, reporting widespread cases of the virus. The CDC reported hospitalization rates similar to that of two years ago. Health officials fear this year will be an unusually bad year due to a historically nasty bug that was not included in this year’s vaccine.
As the flu continues to spread across the nation, it is increasingly important to take precautions to avoid catching and spreading the virus. These precautions include getting the flu vaccine (see below) and to staying in contact with your primary care provider, who can treat the flu early with antiviral medications.
Should I get a Flu Shot?
For starters, it is important to understand there are dozens of influenza strains. Usually, a given year will have a few predominant strains that circulate. Health organizations including the CDC and the World Health Organization’s Global Influenza Surveillance Network work together to predict which strain will be the most prevalent in the coming year. The flu vaccine will normally protect against two strains of influenza A and one or two strains of influenza B.
The CDC recently released a statement regarding the 2014-2015 influenza season and the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. The main highlights of this report stated:
The main strain of Influenza A this year is H3N2, which has historically been associated with worse flu seasons.
Around half of the circulating H3N2 samples have undergone “genetic drift,” meaning they have changed slightly from the vaccine strain. This is very common with influenza and is one of the main reasons it is difficult to treat.
Because of this change, the flu vaccine may not protect well against H3N2.
Despite these facts, it is still necessary and beneficial to get a flu vaccine. While the vaccine may not protect well against the drifted H3N2 strain, it still works effectively in protecting you against the non-drifted H3H2 strain (around 40% of circulating flu viruses). As well as the one or two strains of influenza B (about 15% of the circulating flu viruses). The influenza vaccine can protect you from more than half of this year’s circulating viruses.
6 Simple Steps to Stop the Spread of Influenza
1. Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15-20 seconds. You should wash before and after eating, going to the restroom, or touching pets, phones or other shared items such as keyboards and remote controls. Change hand-drying towels often.
If you cannot wash your hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used.
2. Don’t send children with symptoms to school. If children are experiencing flu symptoms (see Flu Symptoms below), it is best to play it safe and not send them to school. In addition, stay home from work or school if you are feeling ill. Sick family members should be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids and rest.
“If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others. If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a facemask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If you have been exposed to someone with influenza, you should contact your physician as well,” said Dr. Gati Dhroove, internal medicine doctor in Cedar Rapids.
3. Keep things clean. According to the CDC, flu viruses can live anywhere from two to eight hours on a surface. Frequently cleaning heavy traffic areas and used objects and surfaces, including handrails, door handles, phones, toys, remote controls and eating surfaces, is essential to stop the spread of the flu. Use disinfecting wipes and sprays or a bleach-based solution when sanitizing areas.
4. Keep a safe distance. If you know someone ill, it is important to keep a safe distance. Staying at least three feet from someone who is coughing or sneezing decreases your risk of getting sick. The spread of influenza in the home is likely, so families should avoid sharing drinks, forks, spoons, lip balm, etc.
5. Get vaccinated. As mentioned, the flu vaccine is still the first line of defense against the flu. A flu shot or mist should be administered each year in the early fall to protect against the virus for the entire flu season.
Nearly everyone over the age of 6 months is encouraged to get a yearly flu vaccine. Influenza vaccination is especially important for at-risk populations who are more likely to develop complications related to the flu. At-risk populations include pregnant women, children younger than five, adults 65 and older and people who suffer medication issues, including heart and lung conditions and diabetes.
Even if you did not receive a vaccination earlier this year, the CDC still recommends receiving one as the virus will continue to be around for several months.
6. Consult a health care provider. If you or a family member begin to feel ill, message or call your primary care provider to discuss the symptoms. It is especially important for the at-risk population (children less than five, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women and those who suffer from certain medical conditions).
“Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that can be used to treat influenza. If you are having symptoms of flu contact your physician right away since the available treatment is most effective early in the course of the disease process,” Dr. Gati Dhroove explained.
The patient portal (MyUnityPoint) is available to current UnityPoint patients who have registered to message your provider.
If you report symptoms within 48 hours of the onset, your primary care provider can prescribe antiviral medication, which can lessen the severity of symptoms associated with the flu.
If children experience the following symptoms, seek urgent medical attention:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not waking up or interacting
- Being irritable to the point that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
Symptoms of the Flu
- The symptoms of influenza include:
- Fever (typically more than 100° F)
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches
- Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
People may be able to infect each other one day before symptoms occur and up to 10 days after being sick.