A dominant strain of the flu came early and fierce this season, and hospitals fear a severe flu season is ahead. The strain of flu can change from year-to-year, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials had anticipated a more severe flu season since last winter had a mild one.
What is influenza?
Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Thousands of people die each year from the flu and flu-related illnesses. In seasonal flu, certain people are at high risk of serious complications including people who are 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women and those of any age with certain chronic medical conditions.
Although flu season typically peaks in late January or early February, CDC officials say 41 states, including Arizona were already reporting "widespread" flu activity by the end of this past December. The predominant strain this flu season is H3N2. In years past when this strain has been dominant, the CDC says young kids and the elderly tend to be affected more than others in the high risk category. So far, 18 infant and child deaths have been reported nationwide this flu season.
What are flu symptoms?
During flu season, symptoms include sudden fever that lasts three to four days, headache, aches and pains, sore throat, chest discomfort, and fatigue and weakness that can last two to three weeks or more. The common stomach flu is not related to flu season. However, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be present in children younger than 5 years old.
Is it too late to get the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu infection. It can protect you from the flu and also may avoid spreading influenza to others.
Protection from the flu vaccine lasts about a year. Because the influenza virus is always changing, it is best to get vaccinated each year.
It is not too late to get vaccinated for this flu season. Anyone 6 months old and older can get the flu vaccine.
You should not get the vaccine if you have a fever or are currently have the flu.
Taking the following everyday steps can also help protect your health:
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Cough or sneeze into your arm (elbow) if a tissue is not available; do not cover your cough or sneeze with your hands, unless you can immediately wash them.
Washing your hands often with soap and water - 15 to 20 seconds.
Use hand sanitizer between hand washing.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; germs spread this way.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care (your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
When should you seek urgent medical care?
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
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Severe or persistent vomiting
For more information, talk with your healthcare provider. You can also visit the CDC's website at www.cdc.gov/fluDue to the early start and severity of this year's Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season, VVMC is implementing visitation restrictions effective immediately in all patient-care areas of the hospital. Children under 12 will be restricted to common areas of the hospital (unless they are a patient) and cannot be left unattended.
These areas include main lobby areas and the Cafeteria. If at all possible, visitors are asked to leave children at home when they come to the hospital to visit patients.
Children under the age of 12 who are the siblings of a newborn on the Maternal Child Unit may be allowed to visit.
Children will be screened for illness by unit staff and must be accompanied by an adult.
Anyone who has symptoms of illness such as a fever, headache, sore throat, body aches, congestion or a cough should not visit the hospital unless they require hospital services.
Additionally, patients exhibiting these symptoms will be required to wear a mask to minimize the spread of infection, and will be asked to wash their hands frequently.
Influenza and RSV is present in respiratory secretions and can be transmitted when a person coughs or sneezes.
The viruses also can be transmitted person-to-person via nasal secretions and contaminated hands. This is why covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue or coughing/sneezing into the elbow is important, followed by washing your hands or using waterless hand sanitizers.
RSV is a very common virus that causes cold-like symptoms in children and adults.
Premature babies whose lungs are not fully developed, newborn infants and those patients with lung or heart conditions are extremely vulnerable to the virus, which can be fatal. A person exposed to RSV can give it to others without even knowing they have it.
These restrictions are expected to last until the influenza and RSV season ends in the spring.