Flu season arrives, off to an early start
The air is filled with more than the sounds of the holiday season right now. Coughing, sneezing and tissues are floating around waiting to infect the innocent with influenza germs. A Dec. 21 report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that the influenza season, which usually begins in January or February, is already in full swing across the country.
“Today’s report confirms that the U.S. flu season is off to an early start,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. “It’s too early to tell how severe our season might be. However, we know that thousands die and hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized with flu each year.”
The Michigan Department for Community Health stated in a Dec. 27 press release there have been two pediatric deaths in the state of Michigan that resulted from influenza. One death was a six-month-old in the southwest part of the state while the second death was a 13-year-old from central Michigan.
In addition to the two flu-associated pediatric deaths in Michigan, there have been 149 positive influenza cases confirmed at the MDCH Bureau of Laboratories (BOL). This number does not represent all the influenza cases diagnosed and reported in Michigan, as additional cases have been confirmed at laboratories throughout the state. During the last flu season, there were four positive cases reported to MDCH’s BOL at this time; however, last year the flu season started late and was mild.
Health officials, from the national to the local level, state the best protection against influenza is vaccination. Vaccinations are recommended for anyone over the age of six months.
According to Lenawee County Health Officer Patsy Bourgeois all parents with a child under the age of six months should get the vaccine themselves as protection for the baby. Children under six months do not have a strong enough immune system to get this vaccination, but if those closest keep the illness away, babies are much safer.
The elderly and those with chronic illness like emphysema or a compromised immune system as a result of medication are also more likely to get the flu. “When your body is trying to fight a chronic illness it makes you more susceptible,” said Bourgeois.
Those who fear contracting influenza from a vaccination should be reassured there is no way to become infected from a shot as, according to Bourgeois, the virus in the shot is dead. Those who do contract the flu soon after a vaccination were infected with the virus before the flu shot could take full effect. According to the CDC it takes up to two weeks for the vaccination to reach full strength in the body. Children under age eight may require a second vaccination for full safety.
A flu shot offers protection for approximately six months, guaranteeing defense from influenza all the way through the spring months. “It’s not too late to get that flu shot,” Bourgeois said.
Immunization shots are available from doctor’s offices and pharmacies. The Lenawee Health Department also can give flu vaccinations by appointment.
An important point to make about influenza is it refers to an upper respiratory virus that often settles in the chest and lungs. It is not treatable with antibiotics unless it turns into a secondary infection in the sinus or lungs. Anyone with a fever and vomiting or diarrhea has an intestinal virus, which is not prevented by a flu shot.
“The flu is upper respiratory,” said Bourgeois. “It can get worse.” She added that if left untreated, influenza can often lead to bronchitis or pneumonia.
Precautions to protect against the flu include washing hands often. Those with flu symptoms should stay home from work or schoolj and try to sneeze and cough into the shoulder or elbow to prevent droplets of moisture from entering the air.
Those who feel the start of flu symptoms should get to the doctor right away as Tamiflu can be prescribed within 48 hours to lessen the length of the flu by one third. Beyond a Tamiflu prescription, there is not much that can be done for those with the flu besides treat the symptoms of the virus.
Schmidt and Sons pharmacist Mike Peters cautions against overmedication when one has the flu. The pharmacy can assist those suffering the effects of the flu to find the right medications. “We match the medicine with the flu symptoms,” Peters said.
According to Peters, there are different symptoms, which range from congestion, cough, runny nose, and fever. The right symptom relievers can make it easier to rest and sleep.
More information on influenza symptoms and treatment can be found at the CDC website, cdc.gov. Flu shots are still available and can be scheduled through the Health Department by calling 264-5226 or by stopping in at any Schmidt and Sons Pharmacy.