The 2017-2018 flu season started early and, so far, appears to be more severe than the past two seasons. We saw influenza-related activity dramatically increase during the last week of December, and this activity is currently considered to be widespread across most of the United States. Check your state’s most recent surveillance report here. We’re hoping to see this season peak sometime in January or February, but flu season typically lingers well into the spring, sometimes as late as April or May. So, it’s important to be prepared and ready to protect yourself from the flu until then.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s estimated that these viral infections have caused 10-35 million illnesses, 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-56,000 deaths on average nationally every year since 2010. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen increased numbers of hospitalizations and deaths this year to influenza.
We’re dealing with four main types of influenza, two types of flu A and two types of flu B, and all four strains are included in this year’s flu vaccination. So far, one of the flu A types, the H3N2 virus, accounts for a large portion of this year’s reported flu cases. The H3N2 virus is particularly dangerous, linking to increased hospitalizations and deaths in young children and seniors.
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, coughing, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. However, not everyone infected with the flu will present all of these symptoms. In fact, some won’t even have a fever.
Can I treat these symptoms at home? When should I receive medical attention?
Adults who are generally healthy and then infected with a mild case of the flu usually don’t need to visit a doctor or take antiviral drugs. These people should stay home, get plenty of rest and stay hydrated by consuming fluids. If symptoms persist, you can purchase over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to reduce pain and fever. We don’t recommend taking aspirin, as this medication has been linked to several flu-related complications.
It’s also extremely important to keep your distance from others who don’t have the flu. Wash your hands frequently and avoid leaving home for at least 24 hours following your last fever. If you have concerns about your infection, or questions regarding antiviral medication, make sure to call your doctor as soon as you can.
If you’re a child or high-risk adult, it’s very important to call your doctor as soon as symptoms arrive. There are antiviral medications that can be used to shorten the duration of the infection and prevent severe complications. These medications must be started early on in your illness to stand their best chance in helping.
Some people will need to visit an urgent care clinic or emergency center to receive immediate attention because of this virus. It’s helpful to know the signs and symptoms that indicate severe illness from the flu. In children, these are some of the core warning signs from the CDC:
- Fast or troubled breathing
- Cyanosis, a bluish discoloration of the skin
- Dehydration, a lack of fluid consumption
- High fever
- Return of flu-like symptoms with worsened fever, cough
For adults, these are some of the core warning signs from the CDC:
- Difficult, short breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Confusion or altered mental state
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Return of flu-like symptoms with worsened fever, cough
If you see one or more of these warning signs in yourself or your child, it’s important to start thinking about receiving help. If you have any questions, or if you’re worried about these symptoms, please call your doctor or make an appointment for further evaluation.
How can I avoid infection?
- If you haven’t received your flu shot for this season, get it now! It isn’t too late.
This is the best way to protect yourself and your family from flu infection. The flu vaccine is recommended yearly for everyone over 6 months of age in the United States. It’s important to remember even though the vaccine doesn’t completely prevent your chances of infection, it can still protect you from severe complications accompanied by the flu.
- Avoid contact with infected people, if possible.
The flu is very contagious. Each time someone infected coughs or sneezes, droplets carrying the virus are released into the air. If you know a friend or co-worker with the flu, encourage them to stay home and rest.
- Wash your hands, often!
The CDC recommends washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If soap and/or water aren’t available, you can use hand sanitizer or alcohol-based hand rubs. You should wash your hands before eating, picking up infants/children and after visiting public places. When in doubt, just wash your hands! In addition, try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth at all times to decrease the risk of infection.
- Disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated.
You can use regular household cleaners to wipe down and disinfect surfaces that are touched often by other people. The flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours once it lands on a surface, but the virus is fragile enough to remove with most cleaning products.
- Obtain antiviral drugs, if recommended by your doctor.
If you’re at high risk for complications from the flu virus, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re exposed to someone who has the flu. Sometimes, doctors recommend starting antiviral therapy to prevent infection or lessen its impact.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Your immune system functions at its best and fights off these types of viruses when you regularly consume a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables and plenty of fluids, especially water. It also thrives off plenty of rest, regular physical activity and reduced stress.