Early data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggeststhat the 2014-2015 flu season could be severe.
“I think it's just getting kicked off but we see already that in several states there's widespread activity so we're expecting it to ramp up rather quickly,” Dr. Michael Martino, medical director at AFC/Doctors Express in South Bend, Ind., told ConsumerAffairs.
AFC/Doctors Express operates urgent care facilities nationwide and sees lots of patients who have come down with the virus. So far Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Puerto Rico, Louisiana and Alaska have seen widespread flu outbreaks but Martino expects other states may quickly join them.
If you haven't gotten a flu shot yet, there's good reason to do it soon. The CDC says so far this year seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses have been most common. During years when they are predominant resulting illnesses are more severe, increasing the number of hospitalizations.
Vaccine doesn't cover all viruses
Making matters worse, this year's vaccine – which has to be produced well in advance of the flu season – covers only about half of the active H3N2 viruses in the vaccine. But Martino says that's no reason to skip the flu shot.
“In a normal year getting a flu shot might reduce your risk of getting the flu 70% to 80%,” he said. “It's going to be a little less than that this year but there's no question it will help avoid getting sick, and reduce the severity of the flu if you happen to get it.”
At the CDC, director Dr. Tom Frieden says however severe the season turns out to be, Americans need to be prepared.
“We can save lives with a three-pronged effort to fight the flu: vaccination, prompt treatment for people at high risk of complications, and preventive health measures, such as staying home when you’re sick, to reduce flu spread,” Frieden said.
Holidays increase flu risks
Since the vaccine takes about 2 weeks to become effective, getting vaccinated this week is your last window of opportunity to protect yourself before the holidays. And that's important because each year, the holidays seem to produce a multiplier for the flu virus.
“We're traveling, so we're exposed to people from a wider area,” Martino said. “We have increased traffic in public areas so there's increased exposure. And we have close contact with a lot of people, whether it be hand shaking, hugging and kissing relatives – and those are all ways to get exposed to the flu.”
Even if you get a flu shot, Martino says it's important to take simple precautions during flu season. They include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
If you get sick, get treated
If, despite everything, you do get the flu Martino says you can reduce the effects of the illness if you seek treatment quickly.
“It's very smart to go to your doctor or seek urgent care treatment within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms,” he said. “Drugs like Tamiflu are very effective and can shorten the duration and severity of the flu and helps prevent complications.”
Early data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the 2014-2015 flu season could be severe....