One of the bad things that happens particularly in cold winter months is a visit by “Mr. Flu Bug” (influenza).  It’s been reported recently that the flu is already widespread in several states.  During 2009-2010, a new and very different flu virus (2009 H1N1) spread worldwide,  causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. It is estimated that the 2009 H1N1 pandemic resulted in more than 12,000 flu-related deaths in the U.S.  In contrast to seasonal flu, nearly 90 percent of the deaths occurred among people younger than 65 years of age. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • muscle or body aches
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • headaches
  • fatigue (very tired)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever. 

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. In addition,  a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose. You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time. 

Flu is unpredictable and how severe it is varies widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including: what viruses are spreading; how much flu vaccine is available; how many people receive vaccinations; how well the vaccine is matched to flu viruses causing the illness, and when the vaccine is available. 

Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women and people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease or other underlying health problems.  Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. 

You may choose one of two ways to protect yourself from the virus:

  • The “flu shot”–an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The seasonal flu shot is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
  • The nasal–spray flu vaccine –a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). LAIV is approved for use in healthy* people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.  The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common. It will protect against 2009 H1N1, and two other influenza viruses (an H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus). 

As all experts advise, wash your hands often, or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, stay away from crowds as much as possible, and if you begin to start feeling sick, stay home.  Should you contact the flu, do not return to work or school until all symptoms are gone, and fever is absent for at least 24 hours.  Persons with the flu should avoid people that are more likely to become infected – those as described earlier, with other health problems. 

We hope this “unwelcome bug” doesn’t make a stop at your house.  If you haven’t been vaccinated, consider doing so.  There’s much more cold weather ahead of us, and this seems to be the primary time for flu, although the season runs through March.

Source: Centers for Disease Control