FLU SEASON IS UPON US: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Written by Robert O’Brien M.D., NextCare Area Medical Director – Texas
With the start of winter, we are seeing more and more cases of the flu. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu affects the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of the flu may include one or all of the following: sore throat, muscle aches, cough and fever. Symptoms can be mild to severe, may come on suddenly and may become so severe that hospitalization is necessary.
For more than five consecutive weeks, the number of people seeking health care for influenza-like illnesses is reported to be one of the highest seen in past years. There are 4 different flu viruses circulating, with influenza A H1N1 strain being the most common flu type reported nationally this year. This is the same strain that was responsible for the flu epidemic last year as well as the pandemic of swine flu in 2009. As an indication of how serious flu can be, the H1N1 strain has been responsible for the deaths of more than 50 million people worldwide since 2009. The good news this year is that the current vaccine works extremely well for this flu strain, being more than 65% effective against the H1N1 strain. The vaccine also shows good protection against the other 3 flu viruses also circulating this year.
Without taking the necessary precautions, the flu virus can cause serious complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently reported record-breaking hospitalization rates resulting in the highest number of reported pediatric deaths since the 2014-2015 flu season. In addition, research by the American Heart Association found that people are six times more likely to have a heart attack in the week after being diagnosed with the flu. Also reported is that for every 5 percent increase in flu activity, hospitalizations for heart failure increased by approximately 24 percent.
An annual flu vaccine is still the best way to protect against influenza and its potentially serious complications. There are many advantages to getting the flu vaccine. Not only can the vaccine prevent or lessen the symptoms, it can reduce the number of doctors’ visits, missed work and school, as well as decrease and even prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The flu vaccine has also been shown to be life-saving in children. In fact, a 2017 study showed that the flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from flu. Getting vaccinated also protects those around you who may be vulnerable to becoming very sick, such as babies, older adults, and pregnant women.
With the flu starting a little later than normal this year, it is possible that it will peak later and could possibly even continue at high levels through early spring. Therefore, if you haven’t done so, it is still not too late to get the flu vaccine this year.
Visit any of our clinics today so you can be protected from the serious complications that can come with the flu.