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Infectious Diseases A–Z – Influenza widespread in the US

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Featured, Health & Wellness

Published on January 15, 2020 with No Comments

The seasonal flu virus has made a widespread appearance across the U.S., just in time for winter. Most flu illnesses are being caused by the influenza B virus, which is unusual for this time of year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To date, more than 3.7 million illnesses and 1,800 deaths have been attributed to the flu this season.

“If you have not received your flu vaccine, do it now,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each season.”

Most people who get sick with the flu recover on their own. However, complications from the flu can lead to hospitalization and even death. For high-risk patients, including those over 65, young children, diabetics and those with a compromised immune system, taking an antiviral medication quickly is important.

“If you develop symptoms of influenza, and you’re elderly or have medical problems, we now have a drug where we can administer one dose and treat this virus very effectively if you get in to be seen within 48 hours of developing symptoms,” says Dr. Poland. Antiviral medications are prescribed by a health care provider.

When taken within two days of becoming sick, these medications can lessen flu symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. An antiviral medication is not a substitute for your yearly flu shot. Rather, it’s considered a second line of defense.

 

Vaccination is the best protection against influenza. Beyond vaccination, here are some ways to prevent the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands with warm soap and water frequently.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.

It takes up to two weeks for the flu vaccine to work. The CDC says that you can help prevent the spread of infection by not traveling while you are sick with flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, and fatigue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends those at high risk of serious flu complications contact their health care provider for the best treatment options.

New flu antiviral available 

For those who become ill with the flu, a new antiviral medication may help. “This is really kind of a blockbuster,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group. “We have not had a new influenza antiviral drug in a couple of decades.”

“New in this last year is baloxivir, an antiviral drug that can be used to treat influenza and only takes one dose. If you develop symptoms of influenza, and you’re elderly or have medical problems, we now have a drug where we can administer one dose and treat this virus very effectively if you get in to be seen within 48 hours of developing symptoms,” says Dr. Poland.

The medication can help lessen symptoms and shorten the amount of time of the illness. It is especially important for those who are at high risk of developing complications from the flu virus, including those over age 65 and those with chronic medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

Most healthy people who become ill with the flu recover on their own and won’t need medical care or antivirals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends those at high risk of serious flu complications contact their health care provider for the best treatment options.

Baloxivar is one of four antiviral drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the CDC.  It is only licensed for those 12 and older. Other antiviral prescription medications include oseltamivirzanamivir, and peramivir.

 

Those at high risk of flu complications are:

  • Young children under age 5, and especially those under 1 year
  • Adults over 65
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes
  • People with a body mass index of 40 or higher

Antiviral medication is not a substitute for the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months get a flu shot annually.

Although anyone can get the flu, some people are at higher risk of flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, hospitalization and death. More than 110 Hoosiers died from influenza-associated illnesses during the 2018-19 flu season. Those most at risk include pregnant women, young children (especially those too young to get vaccinated), people with chronic illnesses, people who are immunocompromised and the elderly. It is especially important for these individuals to be vaccinated each year.

 Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:

  • fever of 100 Fahrenheit or greater
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • muscle aches
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose

People can help prevent the spread of flu by washing their hands frequently and thoroughly, avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth with their hands and staying home when sick. Hoosiers should practice the “Three Cs” to help prevent the spread of flu and other infectious diseases:

  • Clean: Properly wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water.
  • Cover: Cover your cough and sneeze into your arm or a disposable tissue.
  • Contain: Stay home from school or work when you are sick to keep your germs from spreading.

To learn more about influenza or to view the ISDH weekly flu report, which is updated each Friday, go to https://www.in.gov/isdh/22104.htm.

Visit the Indiana State Department of Health at www.StateHealth.in.gov for important health and safety information, or follow IDOH on Twitter at @StateHealthIN and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/isdh1.

Source: Mayo Clinic, Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Indiana State Department of Health (IDOH)

 

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