Defending Against This Season’s Deadly Flu: 5 Things To Know Now

January 11, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Aja C. Holmes planned to go to work last week, but her flu symptoms — a cough, fever and severe body aches that worsened overnight — had other ideas.

“It felt like somebody took a bat and beat my body up and down,” said Holmes, 39, who works as a residential life director at California State University-Sacramento. “I couldn’t get out of bed.”

The nation is having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad flu season.

Flu is widespread in 46 states, including California, according to the latest reports to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nationally, as of mid-December, at least 106 people had died from the infectious disease. At least 27 Californians younger than 65 had died as of Friday, seven of them during the week before Christmas. And states across the country are reporting higher-than-average flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

In California, flu struck surprisingly early and hard this season. The state’s warmer temperatures typically mean people are less confined indoors and result in a later flu season compared with other regions. Health experts aren’t sure why this season is different.

“We’re seeing the worst of it right now,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician who is leading Kaiser Permanente-Northern California’s anti-flu effort. “We’re really in historic territory, and I just don’t know when it’s going to stop.” (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Here are five things you should know about this flu season:

  1. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years.

The H3N2 influenza A subtype that appears to be most prevalent this year is particularly nasty, with more severe symptoms including fever and body aches. Australia, which U.S. public health officials follow closely in their flu forecasting in part because their winter is our summer, reported a record-high number of confirmed flu cases in 2017. Another influenza B virus subtype also is circulating, “and that’s no fun, either,” Bergen said.

Flu season in the U.S. typically starts in October and ends in May, peaking between December and February.

  1. This season’s flu vaccine is likely to be less effective than in previous years.

U.S. flu experts say they won’t fully know how effective this season’s vaccine is until the end of the season. But Australia’s experience suggests effectiveness was only about 10 percent. In the U.S., it is 40 to 60 percent effective in an average season. Vaccines are less protective if strains are different than predicted and unexpected mutations occur.

  1. You should get the flu shot anyway.

Even if it is not a good match to the virus now circulating, the vaccine helps to ease the severity and duration of symptoms if you come down with the flu. Young children are considered among the most vulnerable to complications from the disease, and a shot can significantly reduce a child’s chances of dying. High-dose vaccines are recommended for elderly people, who also are exceptionally vulnerable to illness, hospitalization and death related to the flu, according to the CDC.

“Some protection is better than no protection,” Bergen said, “but it’s certainly disappointing to have a vaccine that’s just not as effective as we’d like it to be.

Shots may still be available from your doctor or local health clinic, as well as at some chain drugstores. Check the Vaccine Finder website (https://vaccinefinder.org/) for a location near you.

  1. Basic precautions may spare you and your family from days in bed.

As much as possible, avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

Masks aren’t particularly effective in keeping you from catching the flu, although they may help keep sick people who wear them from spreading their germs further.

If you are sick, cover your cough and stay home from work if you can, Bergen said. Remaining hydrated, eating nutritious foods and exercising can also help strengthen your immune system.

Because elderly people are so vulnerable to the flu, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities may limit visitors and resident activities, depending on the level of illness.

  1. Don’t mistake flu symptoms for those of a common cold.

The hallmarks of flu are fever and body aches that accompany cough and congestion, Bergen said.

If you feel as if you’re having trouble breathing, or if your fever can’t be controlled with medication like Tylenol, check with your doctor. It’s even more important for patients to see a doctor if they have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease, or if they are young or elderly.

Kaiser Permanente doctors now are being advised to prescribe antiviral drugs like Tamiflu — given as a pill or, for kids, an oral suspension — even without a lab test for influenza, Bergen said. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, however, Tamiflu supplies are running low.

And Bergen cautioned that these medications are only partly effective, reducing the time of illness by just a day or two.

 

 

Get Flu Shot Now, Urge Health Officials

October 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

State health officials Monday renewed their call urging Californians to get a flu shot, and to do it now.

Citing the confirmed death of an elderly person in San Diego from flu-related complications, California’s Public Health Director and Officer Dr. Karen Smith, said people should get vaccinated against influenza (the flu) as soon as possible because it takes a couple of weeks for the body to respond fully to the vaccine.

With flu season expected to be in full swing by late November or December, getting a flu shot now will help ensure having the best protection available as the flu season begins, according to a California Dept. of Public Health statement released Monday.

The flu causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and, sometimes, tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States, emphasized state health officials, adding that everyone six months of age and older, including pregnant women, should get vaccinated.

According to the CDPH, a person with the flu may be contagious and infect others before they even feel sick.

“Deaths related to flu are tragic reminders that the flu virus needs to be taken very seriously,” said Dr. Smith. “A yearly flu shot is the best way to protect against infection and prevent others from coming down with the flu.”

Concern about the effectiveness of this year’s nasal spray vaccine has also prompted health officials to recommend people get the flu shot instead. There should be enough of the flu shot to go around and meet the expected demand, according to the CDPH, which also reminded the public that the vaccine is changed every flu season to match the current viruses circulating.

Common flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish, a cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, chills, fatigue and body aches. Children may also have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Following a few simple tips can help limit your exposure to the flu and other respiratory illnesses and keep them from spreading:

—Stay home when you are sick and limit your contact with others

—Cover your coughs or sneezes with your sleeve or a disposable tissue

—Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and;

—Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

Some local health departments may also offer low- or no-cost flu immunizations. More information about the flu is available on the CDPH website. You can find the nearest flu vaccine locations by visiting www.flu.gov.

 

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