Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Flu Season-What to Expect this Winter Season

Flu Season-What to Expect this Winter Season
Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses types A and B.  Approximately 5 to 20% of the U.S. residents contract the flu each year.  In healthy individuals it is a limited condition though in some individuals, it may lead to death.   In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. Seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur as early as October and as late as May.  You get the flu when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks and droplets containing their germs land in your mouth or nose. You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. 

Some groups are more likely to experience complications from the seasonal flu, including: seniors (those 65 and older), children (especially those younger than 2 years old), and people with chronic health conditions such as HIV, cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Getting the flu vaccine is your best protection against the flu.  Illnesses from seasonal flu usually last for one to two weeks.

Complications from the flu include: bacterial pneumonia, ear or sinus infections, dehydration, or worsening of chronic health conditions.  Approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized every year for flu-related complications in the U.S. 

Most healthy adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after symptoms appear. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be contagious for a longer period.

You are unlikely to get infected with the same exact strain of flu more than once. It is possible to be infected with flu virus more than once in a season, though, because several different strains of flu virus circulate each year. Exposure to a particular strain of flu virus may help protect you against that strain in the future. But it will not protect you from infection with other flu virus strains.

Flu symptoms include:  a high fever often exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit or a feeling of fever (not everyone with the flu has fever), cough and/or sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea (most commonly in children).  In general, the flu is worse than the common cold. Symptoms such as fever, body aches, tiredness, and cough are more common and intense with the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.  Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following:  Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, Purple or blue discoloration of the lips, Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, Sudden dizziness, Confusion, Severe or persistent vomiting, Seizures, or Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

Flu seasons are unpredictable. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World health Organization) closely monitor flu cases to identify new viruses or potential epidemics or pandemics.  On September 7, the Minnesota Department of Health reported detection of 3 infections with an influenza A H1N2 variant (“H1N2v”) virus with the pandemic M gene from the 2009 H1N1 virus. These cases were reportedly associated with prolonged contact with pigs at a fair. H1N2 viruses normally circulate in pigs, not people, but rare human infections with this virus have been detected in the past.

This virus is different from the H3N2v virus that infected 319 people in the United States in 2011 and 2012. When this virus occurs in pigs, it is called “swine influenza.” The virus does not usually infect people or spread among people. The 2012-2013 flu vaccine is not designed to protect against H3N2v. 

CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year.  Getting a flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease.
With that said… please stop by one of your Helix Medical Centers’ locations and get your updated flu vaccine for this season.
Written by: HELIX Medical Centers: Adrian Bellido, PA- C

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