It’s that time of year again when people walk around sneezing and spreading their germs all over the place, unintentionally. And sometimes, those germs contain powerful strains of a flu virus, which if left unprotected, can be deadly. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a recent report showing that at least 1,300 people have died from the flu so far this season.
Another key point that the CDC has released regarding this flu season is that type of flu strain that’s spreading is the influenza B/Victoria virus, which is unusual for this time of the year. Typically, the specific type of virus making its way around the streets isn’t the usual culprit for this time of the year, which adds a surprising element.
The Current Flu Season
So far this season, the CDC reports that there have been at least 2.6 million flu illnesses and 23,000 flu-related hospitalizations. Which unfortunately, scientists are saying could be an early indication that more people will continue to get sick this season.
Like most viruses, there are different types of the flu virus and the one that is currently causing the most illnesses throughout the country is a surprise to the medical industry. The type of flu that is spreading and wreaking havoc is actually a virus that typically doesn’t come around until March or April.
The influenza B/Victoria virus, according to the CDC, is the more commonly reported flu virus among children ages 0-4 years (with 46% reported) and 5-24 years (59% reported). The second most reported virus this season, the influenza A (H1N1) pdm09, is slightly at a higher risk of affecting adults between the ages of 25-64 years old.
As of the end of the first week of December, all areas of the country, except for Alaska, have reported some type of flu activity. Among all the states, the highest flu activity seems to be clustered throughout 11 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington, as well as in Puerto Rico.
With over 1,000 deaths accounted for so far this season, the CDC reported that 10 of those deaths were among children.
While typical symptoms of the flu, which include fever, sore throat, aches, chills and sweats, and fatigue, don’t seem detrimental, complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups and heart problems could pose a deadly risk.
Although you should already know the basics by now, it can’t hurt to do a quick recap of ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu virus that’s circulating this season.
Protection from the Flu Virus
In order to protect yourself and those around you from the flu virus, the CDC recommends three basic steps:
- Get vaccinated
- Take actions against spreading germs
- Seek treatment when necessary
Although getting stuck by a needle may seem like a daunting task, it’s recommended that everyone who is 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. Especially for those that are at high risk, getting the vaccine could help prevent contracting the virus and putting yourself in harms way.
Getting the vaccine might also help with lowering frequent trips to the doctors office and missing work or school, as well as protecting those around you such as your family, coworkers or classmates.
It should also be noted that the flu shot is not a one-size-fits-all vaccine. Depending on how old you are and other health considerations, flu shots come in different shapes and sizes.
Health Precautions Against the Flu
Although the CDC recommends receiving the vaccination as the single best way to prevent the flu, there are other ways to combat the virus’s spread such as covering your cough and thoroughly washing your hands often.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you become sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick as well
- If you start to feel sick, try to stay home from work, school or running errands as this can help prevent spreading your illness
- When coughing or sneezing, be sure to cover your mouth and nose; the flu virus and other serious respiratory illnesses, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are spread by coughing, sneezing and unclean hands
- By making sure that you wash your hands often and thoroughly, you can help protect yourself from germs
- Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth
- You can help prevent the spread of germs at home or at work by cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces; other ways to help is to get plenty of sleep, stay active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food
The goods news is that the flu virus is preventable through vaccinations and taking appropriate health precautions, and what’s even better is that the flu can be treated through prescription medications called “antiviral drugs”.
Most people that end up with mild symptoms of the flu typically don’t need medical care or the medication. However, if your symptoms are severe and you are a high-risk individual (pregnant women, have asthma, etc.), you will need to contact your health care provider.
It’s likely that if the doctor sees a reason for you to take the antiviral drugs, you should follow their directions. And in the meantime, continue to take precautions to protect others from getting sick. You may need to stay home for at least 24 hours until your flu-like symptoms end.
If you happen to work in the healthcare industry, you may need to take extra precautions against the flu since you’re working directly with people who may or may not be infected.
Guidelines for Healthcare Workers
When you work in certain industries or have to perform certain job-related tasks for patients who may have the flu, you may be at higher risk of exposure to the virus at work.
The U.S. Department of Labor similarly follows much of the advice given by the CDC regarding dealing with the flu. However, they do state that depending on where you work, such as in a school, inpatient and outpatient facilities, home healthcare, industrial workspaces, etc., you can take precautionary measures to help protect yourself from contracting the flu.
They recommend getting vaccinated and staying at home if you are sick. They also recommend keeping frequently touched common surfaces clean, such as telephones, computer equipment, etc., as well as trying to not use other coworker’s phones, desk, office space, or computer and work tools.
It’s also important to stay active and in shape, get plenty of rest and also eat a healthy diet. If you believe that you are at high risk for flu complications, the department of labor even recommends talking to your employer about alternative work assignments.
So, while flu season is in full swing, the CDC says that it’s never too late to get vaccinated and be better protected when coming into contact with the virus that seems to be spreading rather quickly this season. Other ways, as discussed, of keeping yourself protected include good healthy habits such as covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze and washing your hands as often and as thoroughly as possible. With these steps, you can help yourself and your loved ones have a better chance of getting through the flu season unharmed.