Flu Season Is Here

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By: Joseph Halphen PA-C, Lake After Hours

Seasonal influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is caused by influenza viruses, which infect the respiratory tract (i.e., the nose, throat, lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people.  Most people who get the flu recover completely in one to two weeks, but some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia. In an average year, the flu is associated with about 20,000 deaths nationwide and many more hospitalizations. Flu-related complications can occur at any age; however, the elderly and people with chronic health problems are much more likely to develop serious complications from the flu than are younger, healthier people.

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. But, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.

Typical flu symptoms include fever (usually 100-103 degrees Fahrenheit in adults and often even higher in children) and respiratory symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as headache, body aches, and often extreme fatigue. Although nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can sometimes accompany the flu, especially in children, gastrointestinal symptoms are rare. The term "stomach flu" is not really a flu at all. It is often used to describe an illness caused by other viruses.

Flu viruses are divided into three types, designated A, B, and C. Influenza types A and B are responsible for epidemics of respiratory illness that occur almost every winter and are often associated with increased rates of hospitalization and death.

Influenza type C differs from types A and B in some important ways. Type C infection usually causes either a very mild respiratory illness or no symptoms at all. It does not cause epidemics and does not have the severe public health impact that influenza types A and B do. Efforts to control the impact of the flu are mostly aimed at types A and B.

Flu viruses continually mutate over time. This constant changing enables the virus to evade the immune system, so that people are susceptible to the flu throughout life. This process works as follows: a person infected with a flu virus develops antibody against that virus; as the virus mutates, the "older" antibody no longer recognizes the "newer" virus, and the person gets sick. The older antibody can, however, provide partial protection against newer viruses.

Currently, three different influenza strains circulate worldwide: two type A viruses and one type B. The two type A viruses are:  A(H1N1), A(H3N2) respectfully.

You can reduce the risk of getting influenza or spreading it to others by:

  • Washing your hands often and using hand sanitizers
  • Promptly disposing of used tissues in the waste basket or garbage
  • Coughing and sneezing into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands
  • Staying home when you are ill
  • Getting the influenza vaccine

If you get the flu there are drugs that can shorten flu illness. They are called antiviral drugs and can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They can also prevent serious flu–related complications, like pneumonia. The two most commonly used antiviral medications are Tamiflu and Relenza.

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as the 2011-2012 vaccines are available. The flu vaccine is currently available at all of the Lake After Hours Urgent Care locations. Those at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older. Vaccination is also important for health care workers, and others who live with or care for high risk people. Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. Anyone who cares for them should be vaccinated instead as a precautionary measure.

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