‘Hit By a Bus’: Flu Season Hitting Hard
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted an early and severe flu season this year, and our family practice doctors in Delray Beach regret to report that their prediction seems to be coming true.
The last time the flu arrived this early was in the 2003-04 season, when 10 percent of all deaths in the country were related to the flu. According to the latest figures from the CDC, 6.4 million Americans have already contracted the flu this season, which has killed 3,000 people so far, including 27 children. This is the highest number of pediatric fatalities recorded at this point in the season since the agency began tracking pediatric deaths 20 years ago.
Three of the pediatric deaths occurred in Florida, and the Florida Department of Health reports that none of the children had received the flu vaccine. The dominant strain this year—influenza B—seems to be targeting younger-aged people this year: infants and children, teens, and young adults. Middle-aged and older adults, who are typically often hardest hit during flu season, do not seem as susceptible, possibly due to immunity from previous exposure to this strain.
This year, in addition to the typical influenza symptoms of fever, headache, and body aches, we’re also seeing vomiting and diarrhea, as well as more respiratory complications, which often results in pneumonia. Another predominant symptom with this strain is severe fatigue.
The Sun Sentinel recently spoke with one nurse practitioner in the area who told them, “People feel like they have been hit by a bus. They are coming in dragging and saying they’ve never felt like this before.”
There’s still time to protect yourself
Although it’s too soon to gauge how well this season’s flu shot is performing, it’s not too late to get one. If you’ve been lucky enough so far to escape this year’s outbreak, be aware that the typical flu season extends through the end of May.
The CDC notes that it takes at least two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, not reaching its peak effectiveness until another week after that. And children who are being vaccinated for the first time need two vaccines spaced a month apart to become fully protected.
If you do contract the flu, having the shot can make the illness less severe and less contagious.
Other measures you can take
In addition to receiving the flu shot, here are other helpful methods to avoid getting sick, according to the CDC.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others, and stay home when you’re sick to avoid passing it to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading the virus.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, the portals most likely to allow the flu (or cold) virus to enter your body.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school.
- Practice other good health habits: Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Finally, if you believe you have the flu, see us as soon as possible for testing. But remember, antibiotics are designed to fight bacteria, not viruses, and they are useless against the flu. We can, however, prescribe antiviral medications that can shorten the length and severity of your illness, but they must be administered within the first 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Also contact us if you have a compromised immune system, or if you’re older than 65.