The Centers for Disease Control has recently reported that its ‘widespread’ in nearly every U.S. state and Puerto Rico, with outpatient doctor visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) at three times the normal levels. California has been hit hard, and if you and your family have been lucky enough to escape it, you’ve no doubt felt the impact at work or school.
Why is the flu at epidemic levels this year, especially if most everyone knows that the best way to protect themselves and their family is to get the flu vaccination? Unfortunately, the latest reports show that about 58% of adults didn’t get their flu shot, despite the recommendations. In addition, around 41% of children six months to 17 years didn’t receive their flu shot. What’s more, this year’s flu vaccination has been estimated to be effective against only 30% of the most prevalent flu strain, a type of the influenza A virus called H3N2. For reference, nearly 87% of the positive flu tests have been influenza A, with almost 90% of those being H3N2 — which is especially severe.
Each year, the flu vaccine has to be reviewed and updated to match which flu viruses are circulating — but it’s not foolproof. Researchers from the World Health Organization gather to identify three or four strains that they believe will affect the northern hemisphere, based on the southern hemisphere’s most recent flu season. This approach generally works fairly well. However, during the development of this year’s vaccine, the virus in the vaccine mutated and was no longer a match — which is uncommon, but can happen. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a flu shot – or even that it’s too late. There could be as many as 13 more weeks of flu season to come and even though it might not be 100% effective for everyone, it can still help minimize the symptoms of the flu, reduce the amount of virus that you can potentially spread to others, and protect against influenza B, which tends to spread later in the season. Some other important tips to prevent flu transmission are:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often
- Be mindful and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick
- Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently touched
- Keep your immune system at its best by eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep — not just during flu season but all year round
While a vast majority of people who come down with the flu will make a full recovery, it can still be a very serious and deadly illness if people don’t take proper care of themselves. Deadly cases are generally limited to the young, elderly, or people with pre-existing conditions — but healthy people can develop fatal complications, too. The extra mucous in the respiratory system and coughing can turn into bacterial infections such as bacterial pneumonia, and in some cases the pneumonia can spread to the bloodstream causing a multi-system infection called sepsis. Read more about sepsis here.
What should you do if you do get the flu? The most important thing is to rest, stay very hydrated and stay away from others. It’s recommended that you visit your doctor or an urgent care clinic within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms, where you can be treated with an antiviral medication that can help with the symptoms and shorten the illness. Otherwise, over-the-counter medicines can be taken and, in most cases, severe flu symptoms should subside between two to three days but you can still feel under-the-weather for up to two weeks. If you experience prolonged symptoms or shortness of breath, you should visit your doctor to rule out complications.
The flu is serious this year, and it’s important to not only protect yourself, but protect your friends, family and community. That means getting the flu shot and taking the necessary precautions against getting or spreading the flu virus.
This article first appeared in the February 2018 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.