The flu virus is thought to thrive in cold weather, so it’s no surprise that during this unseasonably warm winter, we’ve had an equally mild flu season. Doctor visits for the flu have been below average this winter for New Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But don’t think you’re in the free and clear. Typically, flu season peaks in February and March, so it still has time to ramp up and not over yet—meaning you still have time to get a flu shot—the kingpin of prevention—if you haven’t already.
Flu season doesn’t end with the start of spring either. It can continue well into May.
Because of the unpredictability of the flu, there is still a risk that it will become more widespread.
Currently, the CDC reports the flu as follows:
- Widespread influenza activity was reported by 1 state (California).
- Regional influenza activity was reported by 12 states (Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia).
- Local influenza activity was reported by 17 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming).
- Sporadic influenza activity was reported by the District of Columbia, Guam, and 20 states (Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin).
- No influenza activity was reported by the U. S. Virgin Islands.
If the winter remains mild, the chances of a mild flu season are high due to a combination of factors.
There are some who believe that flu viruses do like cooler weather and lower humidity, but we don’t have any solid science to prove it according to the CDC.
Also, in colder months, people tend to group together in closed areas, increasing the likelihood that colds and flu will spread. But when it’s warmer out, kids get outside for recess and adults get out of their offices for lunch. Another factor is that vitamin D is known to boost immunity. When it’s cold out, people get little sun exposure, so their skin doesn’t produce much vitamin D, compromising their immune system. But when it’s 50 degrees out and sunny, you’re likely to go outdoors, get some sun, and get a hefty vitamin D boost.
What is influenza (also called flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
There are two main types of influenza (flu) virus: Types A and B. The influenza A and B viruses that routinely spread in people (human influenza viruses) are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year. Influenza A viruses can be broken down into sub-types depending on the genes that make up the surface proteins. Over the course of a flu season, different types (A & B) and subtypes (influenza A) of influenza circulate and cause illness.
Do I have the flu or a cold?
The flu and the common cold have similar symptoms. It can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Fever is generally the first difference. A flu may have a mild to moderate fever and most colds won’t. Your health care provider can give you a test within the first few days of your illness to determine whether or not you have the flu. 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.
The Flu Is Contagious
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6-10 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are 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 or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that 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. Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.
So what can you do at this point?
• Getting a flu shot is the single most important thing someone can do to protect themselves from the flu
• Make sure your immune system is operating at its peak so it can help fight off any viruses you come in contact with. That means daily exercise, getting enough sleep, keeping stress level down, eating a well balanced diet, drinking lots of fluids, and making sure you get some vitamin D – either through sun exposure or taking a supplement.
• Avoid close contact—kissing, handshakes—with people who are sick and coughing. If you’re sick, stay home and keep your distance from others.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, not your hand, when coughing or sneezing. Cough or sneeze into the elbow as the picture shows.
• Wash your hands often to protect against germs you may pick up from door knobs, handshakes or surfaces. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.
• Keep your hands away from your face. Avoid the urge to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. The average person touches their face over 200 times a day without even realizing it.
Antiviral drugs are an important second line of defense in the prevention and treatment of flu.
- Antiviral drugs are important in the treatment and prevention influenza.
- Influenza antiviral drugs can be used to treat the flu or to prevent infection with flu viruses.
- Treatment with antiviral should begin within 48 hours of getting sick, and can reduce your symptoms and shorten the time you are sick.
- When used for prevention, antiviral are 70% to 90% effective in preventing infection with influenza viruses.
- Antiviral drugs are effective across all age and risk groups.
Two antiviral drugs (oseltamivir, brand name Tamiflu®, and zanamivir, brand name Relenza®) are approved for treatment of the flu.
- Oseltamivir is approved to treat flu in people one year of age and older.
- Zanamivir is approved to treat flu in people 7 years and older.
- These are prescription medications, and a doctor should be consulted before the drugs are used.
- Antiviral treatment lasts for 5 days and should be started within 2 days of illness, so if you get flu-like symptoms, seek medical care early on.
Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- 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.
If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care. In children emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Seasonal Flu versus Pandemic Flu
|Rarely happens (three times in 20th century)
||Happens annually and usually peaks in February or March
|People have little or no immunity because they have no previous exposure to the virus
||Usually some immunity built up from previous exposure
|Healthy people may be at increased risk for serious complications
||Usually only people at high risk, not healthy adults, are at risk of serious complications
|Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed
||Health care providers and hospitals can usually meet public and patient needs
|Vaccine probably would not be available in the early stages of a pandemic
||Vaccine available for annual flu season
|Effective antivirals may be in limited supply
||Adequate supplies of antivirals are usually available
|Number of deaths could be high (The U.S. death toll during the 1918 pandemic was approximately 675,000)
||Seasonal flu-associated deaths in the United States over 30 years ending in 2007 have ranged from about 3,000 per season to about 49,000 per season.
|Symptoms may be more severe
||Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and muscle pain
|May cause major impact on the general public, such as widespread travel restrictions and school or business closings
||Usually causes minor impact on the general public, some schools may close and sick people are encouraged to stay home
|Potential for severe impact on domestic and world economy
||Manageable impact on domestic and world economy
Remember, if you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others.
Safety First, Safety Always!
Information from the CDC, FDA and NM Dept of Health
Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald
Safety and Security Manager for plateau