Your doctors of internal medicine and primary care physicians at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, already knew from our patients that the 2017-18 flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst on record. Last week’s headlines to that effect simply confirmed it.
“This is the first year we’ve had the entire continental U.S. at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time,” Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CNN. Flu is now widespread in every state except Hawaii, CBS News reported, and entire school systems across the country are closing as a result.
So far this year at least 106 people are reported to have died from the flu, 20 of them children. Children under five, those over age 65, and those with compromised immune systems are most often those who will die from contracting influenza, but this year even the young and healthy have succumbed.
The Washington Post published a story last week about a 21-year-old fitness buff and aspiring personal trainer from Pennsylvania who died of organ failure due to septic shock resulting from contracting the flu. Respiratory illnesses leading to pneumonia result in 650,000 deaths annually worldwide, according to the CDC. The organization reported that six percent of all deaths in the U.S. during the week of Nov. 5 were attributable to complications from pneumonia and influenza.
Why has this been such an especially bad season? Part of the reason is the dominance of the H3N2 strain, which tends to be particularly severe.
“This strain is associated with more cases and more hospitalizations and more deaths,” Jernigan told CBS. And another strong and potentially deadly strain is also making the rounds, as well.
Third, Fortune Magazine reported that the atypically cold weather we’ve been experiencing tends to harden the virus and make it more resilient and longer-lasting than the normal flu virus.
Finally, the low effectiveness rate of the annual flu vaccine has played a part. The vaccine is created months before the actual outbreak of flu season, and researchers do their best to anticipate which strains will dominate in the coming season. This year they didn’t predict as accurately as in the past.
However, despite reports that the flu shot is only 10 percent effective, experts think its effectiveness will prove by season’s end (late February to early March) to have been closer to 30 percent.
Therefore, we strongly recommend that you receive a flu shot if you haven’t already done so. Though it takes two weeks to become effective, it’s still not too late. And even if you are unfortunate enough to contract the flu, the shot can make symptoms less severe.
Common symptoms of the flu include fever and/or chills, cough, sore throat, a runny and/or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some flu victims can also experience diarrhea and vomiting.
Besides being vaccinated, here are other steps the CDC recommends that you take to remain healthy.
1. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
2. When you’re sick, stay home. This year’s flu strains are particularly easy to spread, and you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
3. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
4. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs are spread this way.
6. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
If your symptoms are especially severe or do not subside in a few days, see us. We can not only monitor for more dangerous complications, we can prescribe antiviral (not antibiotic) medication that can help lessen the severity of symptoms.