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Flu Blues: Why It’s Shaping Up to be a Rocky Season

Written by Donna Parshall on 2015-02-18
Why It’s Shaping Up to be a Rocky Season

The feverish, achy, sickly season is upon us – and in many parts of the U.S., it’s hitting earlier and harder than usual. If you’ve noticed a spike in flu cases for this time of year in your area, you’re not alone.On January 9, 2014, USNews.com reported that the number of states with influenza activity had increased to 46 and the number of children who had died because of the flu totaled 26. The hardest-hit states – mostly in the South and Midwest – reported school closings and hospitalizations due to the flu.

What Gives?

The most common peak for flu activity in the U.S. happens sometime between December and February, according to the CDC. The fast spread and severity of cases so early in the season may mean that we’re in for a rough ride over the next few months. A couple of factors could be contributing to this, according to a LiveScience.com article by Rachael Rettner.For starters, flu strains in the H3N2 category have emerged as a major factor this year when it comes to the bugs that are making people sick. In an early December news conference, the CDC explained that higher flu hospitalization and death rates tend to occur during seasons in which H3N2 predominates.On top of that, the genetic makeup of viruses can shift over time and “outsmart” the flu vaccines that doctors encourage their patients to get each season. Flu vaccinations are formulated in advance each year to fight the strains of flu predicted to pose the biggest threat. The vaccination developed for this year’s flu season hasn’t entirely kept up with recent genetic changes in H3N2. The CDC reports that about half of the H3N2 strains active now are different from what was included in the vaccine.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

The likelihood of a tougher-than-usual flu season doesn’t mean that you and your loved ones just have to sit back and take what comes. There are some things you can do to avoid becoming sick – or to minimize the misery if you should become infected.

Get vaccinated

This year’s vaccine may not be a perfect defense, but it’s still better than no defense at all. If you and your family members haven’t had flu shots already, it’s not too late. The CDC recommends vaccinations each year for anyone six months and older.This season’s vaccine still protects against some other strains such as H1N1 – the strain that affected the most people during last year’s flu season. Vaccination may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you or a family member should catch the flu. It’s an especially important precaution for the very young, older adults, pregnant women, or people who have certain health problems.If you’re the parent of a baby who’s too young to be vaccinated, getting a shot yourself (and for everyone else in the household, for that matter) is one of the best ways you can protect your little one. Talk to your doctor if you have specific questions or concerns about flu vaccination.

Ask your doctor about antiviral drugs

You don’t necessarily have to suffer in silence if the flu invades your household this season. Two antiviral drugs – Tamiflu and Relenza – may ease symptoms and reduce the length of illness. Flu patients who receive these drugs within a couple of days of infection may have milder symptoms and they may not stay sick as long.The CDC is encouraging physicians to use Tamiflu and Relenza as appropriate. To give them the best chance of working, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible after symptoms begin. This is especially important if the patient is very young, elderly, or otherwise at risk due to health problems.

Put up a strong defense

Flu shots and antiviral drugs are great advances in the fight against flu, but the old-school rules for preventing infection still apply:

Avoid close contact

with people who are sick. If you’re the one who’s sick, keep your distance from other people to protect them catching what you have.

Stay home when you’re sick.

If at all possible, protect other people by staying home from work, school, and other outside activities when you’re suffering from a bug.

Cover that cough.

Keep tissues handy to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Toss the tissue into the handiest wastebasket. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands. That way you won’t be as likely to spread germs onto doorknobs, the phone, or anything other people are likely to touch.

Get serious about washing your hands.

Good hand-washing habits will help you keep your hands free of germs that could make you or other people sick. Use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds every time you wash. Carry a small container of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for times when soap and water aren’t available.

Steer clear of touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Your eyes, nose, and mouth are like gateways for the flu and other viruses to get into your body. Get in the habit of keeping your hands away from these areas. That way, you’ll avoid infecting yourself with anything you may have picked up from touching germy surfaces.

Take care of yourself.

Keep your bodily defenses strong by practicing good health habits. Get enough sleep. Drink plenty of water and other healthy liquids. Eat sensibly and get some type of regular exercise.

Get in touch with your inner ‘clean freak.’

Use disinfectant to regularly clean doorknobs, countertops, phones, and other surfaces that people come into contact with often – especially if someone has been sick.

Awareness is Key

Yes, this flu season may be shaping up to be a nasty one – but by mounting a strong defense, you’ll stand a better chance of keeping yourself and your family healthy. In addition to vaccination, staying aware of the flu threat and taking sensible precautions to minimize risk of infection will go a long way toward keeping those nasty viruses at bay.