Influenza Season is Here

the flu shot

     Flu season is currently in full swing, and its impact has already been heavily felt: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between October 1, 2018 and January 26, 2019 there have been 10.1 million to 11.7 million flu illnesses. Additionally, there have been 4.7 million to 5.6 million flu medical visits, and 118,000 to 141,000 flu hospitalizations. Unfortunately, these rates are all elevated, meaning the percentage of visits is at or above the national or region-specific baseline.

Symptoms of the flu

     The flu (influenza) is a respiratory illness, meaning it is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system: the nose, throat, and lungs. It can appear to be a common cold at first, with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. However, the flu comes on much more sudden in comparison with a cold, and the effects are much harsher. The Mayo Clinic lists common signs and symptoms of the flu:

  • Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)

  • Aching muscles

  • Chills and sweats

  • Headache

  • Dry, persistent cough

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Nasal congestion

  • Sore throat

Risk Factors

     The flu virus is spread through droplets in the air that are launched once an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. An individual can also become infected by touching a surface that has the flu virus on it, and then transferring it to the eyes, nose, or mouth. Certain risk factors exist that leave some individuals at a higher risk of developing influenza once infected:

  • Age - Seasonal influenza tends to target young children and older adults.

  • Living or working conditions - People who live or work in facilities with many other residents, such as nursing homes or military barracks, are more likely to develop influenza.

  • Weakened immune system - Cancer treatments, anti-rejection drugs, corticosteroids and HIV/AIDS can weaken your immune system. This can make it easier for you to catch influenza and may also increase your risk of developing complications.

  • Chronic illnesses - Chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems, may increase your risk of influenza complications.

  • Pregnancy - Pregnant women are more likely to develop influenza complications, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Women who are up to two weeks postpartum also are more likely to develop influenza-related complications.

  • Obesity - People with a BMI of 40 or more have an increased risk of complications from the flu.

Reduce the Risk of getting the flu

     According to the CDC, the most effective method of preventing developing influenza this flu season is by getting the flu vaccine. They recommend that anyone the age of 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine every year, and that the vaccine holds multiple benefits. It can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and prevent flu-related hospitalizations. Data shows that during the 2016-2017 flu season, the flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

     Additional methods to reduce the risk of developing influenza once infected include:

  • Washing hands - Thorough and frequent hand-washing kills much of the bacteria associated with an influenza infection.

  • Containing coughs and sneezes - Directing coughs and sneezes into elbow crooks avoids sending the influenza virus flying as water droplets in the air.

  • Avoiding crowds - Even something as simple as staying away from other individuals while infected can prevent the spread of influenza. Additionally, avoiding crowds in the peak of flu season can prevent a healthy individual from becoming infected as well. A good rule of thumb is to avoid crowds until 24 hours after a fever subsides, in order to lessen the chances of spreading the infection.

  • Get medical attention if symptoms develop - As always, promptly visiting a doctor when negative symptoms begin can prevent the infection from progressing.

     The flu season takes its toll every year, and this season happens to be worse than usual. It’s important to practice influenza prevention methods to reduce the risk of infection, the most important and successful method being getting the flu vaccine annually. For those individuals at a higher risk of infection, these methods of prevention are especially vital.