This year influenza season seems to be moderately severe affecting all parts of United States with many sudden deaths reported in even young individuals. Unfortunately, this year’s vaccine against influenza has not been very effective.
According to news reports, the vaccine has been only 10 percent effective against H3N2 and 33 percent effective over all. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) still recommends everyone to get their flu vaccine. A severe Flu year can kill nearly 650,000 people worldwide.
According to CDC estimates, influenza kills about 12,000 during mild years and 56,000 in moderately severe years.
Influenza season usually happens between October and April. Typical signs and symptoms include fever, cough, cold, sore throat, running nose, headache, fatigue and body aches.
Patients with influenza are most contagious in the first 3-4 days of illness, even though they can get infected from one day before symptom develops and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.
Individuals at highest risk of complications from influenza are young children, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, coronary artery disease, etc.
Influenza spreads by tiny droplets that can travel 3-6 feet when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. The virus travels to mucous membranes of the nose, throat and lungs. Drinking fluid will diminish your headache and bolster your immune response because your protein is carried by bodily fluids. Dehydration hampers protein movement. That is why people tend to drink soup when they are sick and may crave watery fruits, like citrus and melon.
The vaccine may not always prevent influenza occurrence, but if infected can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Main basic treatment available are rest, fluid, analgesic and cough medication. Use of antiviral is not very effective and can be costly.
The use of the 5 day course of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) has to be started within 48 hours of the symptom. It will reduce the duration of symptoms by less than one day. Total direct hospitalization cost of severe influenza epidemics are estimated to more than 6 billion dollars.
All patients with influenza like symptoms can be tested for Influenza A and B. If found to be positive, then respiratory isolation precaution are put in place. People with chronic medical conditions must protect themselves against viruses by wearing a mask when going to crowded areas at nursing homes, medical clinics or hospitals.
People with influenza should wear a mask until they are no longer contagious. Hand shaking should be avoided and hands should be frequently sanitized before handling new task. Health care providers should be especially careful and must wash or sanitize their hands between patients.
Anis Ansari, MD, FASN Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Nephrology