/ by Dr. Derek W. Forster
Flu season is here in Kentucky with over 6,000 cases already reported throughout the state. If you have yet to receive a flu vaccine, there is still time as the average flu season will last until the spring. That being said – the sooner you can get it, the better.
What is it?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe illness and is spread mainly by droplets produced when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
Flu is different from the “common cold.” It usually comes on suddenly and may include the following symptoms:
- Sore throat.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Muscle or body aches.
- Occasional vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children than adults).
The burden of influenza is significant. In the 2017-2018 flu season, there were an estimated 49 million cases of influenza which led to 23 million healthcare visits and 960,000 hospitalizations. In addition, there were 79,000 deaths related to influenza.
What I should I do if I am sick with a flu-like illness?
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you feel like you may have the flu. Antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness if it is recognized early. In some cases, prompt treatment may mean the difference between having a milder illness versus one that is more serious.
How can I prevent it?
Flu vaccine remains the mainstay of prevention, but it is not perfect. Its effectiveness ranges from 40 to 60 percent each year, depending on the vaccine’s match with the predominant circulating strain. Still, the impact of vaccination is profound. During the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC estimates that vaccination prevented 7.1 million flu cases, 2.7 million healthcare visits, 109,000 hospitalizations and 8,000 flu related deaths.
Flu vaccination is a particularly important prevention tool for people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These individuals are at an increased risk for poor flu-related outcomes and more severe disease.
It important to note that getting vaccinated yourself may also protect the people around you, especially those more vulnerable to serious flu illness: babies, young children, older people and those with chronic health conditions mentioned above.
In addition to vaccination, these other methods of prevention are important to keep in mind:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick with a flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home (except to receive medical care) for at least 24 hours afteryour fever is gone.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
Although flu has begun to circulate, there is still time to get vaccinated and be protected.