by Kate Evans
Seasonal influenza is off to a rolling early start across the country with more than 20 states experiencing widespread influenza activity while other states are showing lower levels.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials estimate that there have been at least 2.6 million flu illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 1,300 deaths from flu as of the week ending December 7.
CDC officials stress that it’s not too late to get your flu shot. Flu vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of flu and its serious complications.
Geographic spread of flu
Widespread flu activity was reported in 23 states including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee as of the week ending December 7.
Puerto Rico and 14 states including Ohio and New Jersey are experiencing regional flu activity.
West Virginia and 11 other states are having local flu activity. The District of Columbia, Alaska and the Virgin Islands are reporting sporadic flu.
Influenza-like activity was reported as high in Virginia, moderate in Maryland, low in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia and minimal in West Virginia and Ohio. Influenza-like illness is defined as a fever of 100 degrees or more, cough and/or sore throat.
Get flu shots now
CDC and health officials urge that everyone six months of age and older receive a seasonal influenza vaccine now to provide protection from the flu and prevent flu-related complications, missed work and school days along with possible flu-related hospitalizations and death.
Pneumonia vaccines are also recommended for children and adults of all ages. Children and people 65 years of age and older are most susceptible to pneumonia.
Flu and pneumonia vaccines are available through county health departments, family physicians and pharmacies.
A total of 10 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have occurred during the 2019-2020 season have been reported to CDC. Some 142 influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported for the 2018-2019 flu season.
Active flu strains
Nationally flu activity has been elevated for the past five weeks and is expected to continue. Flu activity is being caused mostly by influenza B/Victoria viruses, which CDC officials say is unusual for this time of year. H1N1 viruses are the next most common strain followed by H3N2 viruses.
This year’s flu vaccine is made to protect against two influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) strains and two influenza B virus strains.
Influenza symptoms are fever, cough or sore throat, headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, chills or body aches. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can also occur, especially in children.
Serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections can occur from influenza. Complications can require hospitalization and become life-threatening or fatal. Influenza can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as asthma or congestive heart disease.
Individuals at high risk of developing flu complications include children under age 5, especially those under age 2, adults over 50 years old, especially those 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and nursing home and long-term care facility residents.
Others at high risk include those with asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disorders and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems.
Seasonal influenza vaccination is very important for those at high risk of flu-related complications, for caretakers and family members of those individuals and health care personnel.
What to do
Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu can lessen flu symptoms and shorten the time of illness by one or two days. They can also prevent serious flu complications such as pneumonia and for those at high risk of complications could mean the difference between a milder flu or a more serious illness and a hospital stay.
If you have flu symptoms and are in a high risk group or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider.
Most people with the flu have mild illness and don’t need medical care or antiviral medication.
Stay home and avoid contact with others except to get medical care.
The CDC recommends that if you’re sick with flu-like illness that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
Until then you should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings.
Wash your hands with soap and water often to prevent flu and other illness. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.
Stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or one’s sleeve and avoid touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth to prevent spreading germs.
Clean and disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces and limit one’s contact with others while sick to prevent them from getting sick.
Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of liquids and get your flu and pneumonia shots if you haven’t received them yet.