North Atlanta Primary Care

2017-18 Flu Season Is Looking Like a Bad One (Article)

2017-18 Flu Season Is Looking Like a Bad One What you need to know to protect yourself right now By Chris Hendel December 07, 2017 Early signs suggest that this flu season is shaping up to be a severe one, predict experts from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The flu season in Australia, often seen as an indicator of how the flu might play out in the U.S., was especially severe, says Jeffrey Shaman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of environmental health sciences and director of Columbia University’s Climate and Health Program. (Flu season in Australia peaked in mid-August.) There were “record-high numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications and outbreaks, and higher-than-average numbers of hospitalizations and deaths [in Australia],” noted Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues in the November 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Here’s what we know so far about this flu season, and what you can do to protect yourself. Clues Point to a Bad Flu Season Preliminary estimates by the Australian government show that a virulent strain of influenza called H3N2 was most responsible for Australia’s unusually high number of flu cases, which resulted in 29,000 hospitalizations and 745 deaths in 2017, more than twice as many as the average over the preceding five years. H3N2 is the very same strain that has been circulating early this flu season in the U.S. Worse still, the Australian flu vaccine, which is largely the same as the U.S. one, was only 10 percent effective against this particular strain, according to the NEJM paper. That doesn't mean you shouldn't get a flu shot, however. "While each flu season may have a dominant strain, there are other strains of the virus that will circulate as well," says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "We know that this vaccine was quite good on the other strains.” Plus, Schaffer adds, when people who are vaccinated do get the flu, it tends to be milder and less contagious. How to Protect Yourself From the Flu According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Dec. 7, about 3 in 5 Americans have not gotten their flu shots yet this season. And while flu activity was low in October, it's been rising steadily since the beginning of November. It's not too late to protect yourself. Just remember that it can take up to two weeks after you've had your shot for your immunity to kick in. In addition to getting that flu vaccine, our medical experts offers these three tips for avoiding germs this time of year: 1. Because dry air helps the flu virus live longer, consider using a humidifier to keep humidity at 30 to 50 percent. 2. Avoid touching your nose and eyes, to reduce the chance of transferring any virus you might have on your hands. 3. Wash your hands often. Use soap and water, and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. What to Do If You Get the Flu Rest, keep yourself hydrated, and if you have fever, headache, and achiness, opt for acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic), ibuprofen (Advil and generic), or naproxen (Aleve and generic). Ask your doctor for a prescription for an antiviral medication right away if you develop a fever, cough, and body aches and you’re 65 or older, obese, or have a compromised immune system or a chronic health concern. Your pediatrician might recommend antivirals for children who have severe flu or chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung disease. An antiviral medication can shorten the flu by one to three days, ease symptoms, and cut the risk of complications, but only if you start it within 48 hours of getting sick. Avoid cough suppressants (flu coughs usually go away on their own) and antibiotics, which don’t work for viral infections and can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. See your doctor if your flu symptoms start to improve but then fever returns and your cough worsens, or if you experience difficulty breathing, pain in the chest or abdomen, dizziness or confusion, and severe or persistent vomiting.

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