According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weekly flu report, there were as many as 26.3 million flu illnesses, 12.4 million medical visits and 347,000 flu hospitalizations between October 1, 2018 and March 2, 2019.1Flu season may not have reached its peak this season, and with weeks of flu activity still to come this season the full extent of damage ceased by the flu is still yet to be determined. In this week’s blog post general information about the flu virus that is currently circulating will be discussed.

 

Flu Vaccination Recommendations

The flu vaccination is the primary way to prevent sickness and death caused by the flu virus. Nevertheless, only about 37.1% of the US population had a flu shot during the 2017-2018 flu season.2The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months to get vaccinated against the flu. People over 65, children under the age of 2, and individuals with certain medical conditions are also advised to get a pneumococcal vaccination to prevent pneumonia.3Although it is late in the flu season, the CDC says it is not too late to get a flu shot and continues their recommendation to get vaccinated for people who did not do so last fall or body to develop immunity.

 

Because the flu virus is constantly changing with new strains appearing regularly, having the flu in the past or getting the vaccination does not guarantee that you will not contract the flu in the future.4The flu shot nevertheless does prevent many infections from occurring and may decrease the severity of the infection. Additionally, people who receive the vaccination are certainly less likely to develop serious complications such as pneumonia, hospitalization and death compared to those individuals who have not had the vaccination.5

 

Flu Strains

        The flu strain dominating this year’s flu season is H1N1, but a second wave of H2N3 strain has also been spreading. Up to this point the H2N3 strain has been primarily targeting the southeastern states.5However, experts warn this strain may become more prevalent during the tail-end of flu season. The H2N3 strain could become especially troublesome in the upcoming weeks if it continues to spread since this strain is typically produces a more severe disease process, and is not as well protected against by this year’s flu vaccine.5

 

Contagion

        The flu virus travels through the air within air droplets when someone who has the infection coughs, sneezes, or talks. The droplets can be inhaled directly, or the germs can be picked up from touching various objects and transferred to the eyes, nose, or mouth. Once an individual contracts the flu virus, experts state that they are likely contagious 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms until about 5 days after the symptoms have begun.4

 

When You Should Contact Your Doctor

        The flu may initially present itself similarly to the common cold with a runny nose, sneezing, and sore throat. Compared to a cold these symptoms tend to come on more rapidly and abruptly. As the infection process continues common signs and symptoms of the flu virus include: fever (>100.4 F), aching muscles, chills and sweats, headache, dry persisting cough, fatigue and weakness, nasal congestion, and sore throat.4

For most young and healthy individuals, the flu virus usually isn’t too serious and will go away on its own within 1-2 weeks without complications or lasting effects. Still, complications related to the flu virus can develop such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and heart problems. Those individuals who are at a special increased risk of complications related to the flu (infants/children, the elderly, pregnant women, immunocompromised populations) are instructed to contact their doctor as soon as flu symptoms begin.6,7For individuals who are otherwise healthy medical attention should be sought if flu symptoms become unusually severe. Trouble breathing, a severe sore throat, cough that produces phlegm or green/yellow mucus, and feeling especially faint are all symptoms that should prompt an individual to contact their doctor.7

 

A relatively small portion of the American population chooses gets the flu shot annually despite this vaccination being the best prevention method.2Although this year’s flu virus may have already passed it peak prevalence, there is a chance that another flu pandemic could still be ahead of us this season. Regardless of whether or not you have received your flu shot this year, remember to practice good health and hygiene habits.

 

References:

  1. CDC. 2018-2018 U.S. flu season: Preliminary burden estimates. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm. Updated March 7, 2019. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  2. CDC. Estimates of Influenza vaccination coverage among adults—United States, 2017-18 flu season. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1718estimates.htm. Published October 25, 2018. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  3. Grohskopf LA, Sokolow LZ, Broder KR, Walter EB, Fry AM, Jernigan DB. Prevention and control of seasonal influenza with vaccines: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices–United States, 2018-19 influenza season. MMWR Recomm Rep 2018 Aug 25;67(3):1-20.
  4. Mayo clinic staff. Influenza (flu). Mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/symptoms-causes/syc-20351719. Updated February 5, 2019. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  5. Scutti S. Flu season may not have peaked, and there’s another wave of severe infections underway, CDC says. Cnn.com. https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/08/health/flu-update-march-2-cdc-bn/index.html. Updated March 8, 2019. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  6. Steckleberg J. Flu symptoms: Should I see my doctor? Mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/expert-answers/flu-symptoms/faq-20057983. Published May 5, 2016. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  7. CDC. The flu: What to do if you get sick. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm. Updated February 28, 2019. Accessed March 10, 2019.