What To Know About This Flu Season
By Dan Surdam, MD and Amy Surdam, FNP
Is this season turning out to be as bad as some have predicted? We don’t know yet. What we do know is it was the earliest start to a flu season in the last 15 years.
The Surdams own Stitches Acute Care Center in Cheyenne, Laramie, and Wellington and are advancing telemedicine with InstaClinics. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The flu, which is caused by the Influenza virus, is spread by droplets, and usually settle within 3 to 6 feet of the infected person. Thus, when someone sneezes or coughs on something, it spreads the virus. The virus can live on surfaces for several hours, which means after you touch a door handle, an elevator button, or a light switch, you could have touched the flu virus and potentially infect yourself.
Typically, we see a predominance of Influenza A earlier in the season, and more Influenza B cases later on in the season as spring approaches. This season has been the exact opposite, we have seen a predominance of Influenza B, and just now are seeing a rise in Influenza A cases. According to the Wyoming Department of Health in their weekly report, we are now seeing widespread influenza and influenza-like illnesses. According to the CDC, “flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.” The State Health Department reports there have already been 20 deaths Wyoming this season that are attributed to pneumonia and influenza illnesses.
How do we protect ourselves?
Annual flu vaccine and basic hygiene are the best defenses we have. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (better yet, sneeze/cough into your elbow). If soap and water aren’t available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the next best thing. Washing your hands regularly will help prevent the spread of flu.
Vaccines have been one of the most important interventions in public health history. Is the flu shot perfect? Of course not. It’s developed based on last year’s viruses and what researchers think next year’s viral strains will be. Sometimes they are closer than others with their prediction. Sometimes the most prevalent virus strain that will cause illness is difficult to isolate. So yes, you can still get the flu if you’ve had the flu shot because it doesn’t convey 100% protection. Anecdotally, it seems those that come down with the flu but have been vaccinated are not as severe cases as those who haven’t been vaccinated. Another factor that can and does affect the efficacy of the flu shot is when you receive it. The best time to get the flu shot is in October. However, it is better to get it later in the season than not at all.
No, the flu shot cannot give you the flu. It is not a live virus. It does, however, initiate a process in your body, which spurs you to create your antibodies to protect you against the predicted viral strains. People can also have mild reactions to it, such as localized soreness, muscle aches, and a low-grade fever. It usually takes two weeks for your body to develop the protective antibodies, so you are still susceptible to the influenza virus during these two weeks. The vaccination is thought to last up to a year, but that depends on an individual’s antibodies and the ever-changing strains of the virus.
Countless scientifically validated studies have shown the flu shot to be extremely safe, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. There are some people who cannot get the flu shot: those with severe allergies to eggs, infants under six months old, sometimes those who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and those who are acutely ill. By immunizing ourselves, we are less likely to get the flu and to pass it on to those who cannot receive the vaccine.
Is it the flu or just a cold?
Typically, the big differentiator between a common cold and the flu is the fever; We also see symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, body aches, sore throat and occasionally gastrointestinal symptoms with nausea and vomiting. Most medical providers can offer rapid flu test that will detect the presence and type of virus. If detected early enough (within 48 to 72 hours of onset), they can offer anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu which works by interfering with the proteins the flu virus uses to reproduce, giving your immune system time to destroy the virus, thus usually shortening the duration of the illness by a day or two. Medical providers may also prescribe Tamiflu to family members of those who have influenza as a method of preventing others in the family from becoming ill with the flu, especially if they have a weakened immune system.
Other treatments for influenza include increasing oral fluids, especially water, and controlling the fever with medications such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen. If you or your loved one do have influenza, please stay home and away from others until the fever has resolved for at least 24 hours.