Flu / Influenza is a serious respiratory illness that results in thousands of hospitalizations and even worse are the deaths that can result from this illness every year. The flu is highly contagious and very easily passed from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or from contact with an infected
person’s oral/nasal fluids.
The Flu Season
Flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter, while the exact time and duration of the flu season can vary, influenza (flu) activity often begins to increase in October.
Most of the time the flu activity peaks between December and march, although activity can last as late as may.
The CDC collects flu activity information yearly and from 1982-2015 the “Peak month of flu activity” is the month with the highest percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for Influenza virus infection during that influenza season.
During this 34-year period, flu activity most often peaked in February (14 seasons), followed by December (7 seasons), march (6 seasons), and January (5 seasons)
How Flu Spreads
Person to Person: People with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away, most experts think that the virus is spread mainly by droplet transmission, which are created when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks.
These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of persons who are nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then transmit it to themselves by touching their mouth or nose.
Signs and Symptoms of the Flu
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigued (very tired)
- Some persons may also have vomiting and diarrhea however this is more common in children then adults
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to pass the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are actually sick. Most adults may be able to infect others begging 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.
Some people especially with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
Onset of Symptoms
The time from when a person is exposed to the flu virus to when symptoms typically occur range between 1-4 days, with an average of about 2 days.
Complications of Flu
Persons suffering from the flu may also find themselves suffering from additional issues i.e.- bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, dehydration, and the worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, cop, asthma or diabetes.
Why Older Adults are at Greater Risk
As a person ages their immune system typically weakens, this puts older adults at risk for the flu and flu-related complications.
During the 2014-2015 flu season, more than 225,000 of the nearly 2.8 million adults 65 years of age and older that suffered from the flu were hospitalized from flu-related illness.
Adults 65 years of age and older typically account for more than half 960%) of flu-related hospitalizations and almost all (90%) of flu-related deaths.
The age related decline of the immune system also affects the body’s response to vaccination.
Due to this decline in response to vaccination a higher dose vaccine has been developed to improve the production of antibodies against the flu and is recommended for adults 65 years and older and those with compromised immune systems.
How to prevent the spread of the flu
Your first step should be getting vaccinated early, thereby allowing your body’s immune system adequate time to develop antibodies against the strains of flu you have been vaccinated against. People should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It is very important to wash hands often with soap and water, if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Linen, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing them well first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school especially if someone is ill.
** Cover your cough and sneeze too!
Where can I get my vaccine?
Check with your primary care professionals, HMO’s, medical clinics usually offer Flu shots to their patients, and some employers also offer flu shots to their employees. If you don’t have those resources available you can seek out the flu shot thru a plethora of pharmacies i.e.- Costco, CVS, Rite Aide, etc.
If you are homebound or have limited transport, there are concierge (House call) doctor services, visiting nurse options that can come to you and give you the shot in the comfort of your home. Home Care providers can also transport you to medical appointments to get your flu shot and see your primary care providers.
How long does a flu vaccine protect you?
Multiple studies conducted over different seasons and across vaccine types and influenza sub types have shown that the body’s immunity to the influenza viruses (acquired either through natural infection or vaccination) declines over time.
For everyone, getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection against the flu, throughout the flu season. It’s important to get a vaccine every season, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.
What Viruses do 2016-2017 Flu Vaccines Protect against
There are many flu viruses and they are constantly changing. Flu vaccines are reviewed annually and updated to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses that research suggest will be most common.
For 2016-2017, three component vaccines will contain
- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)- Like virus and a
- B/Brisbane/60/2008-Like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
** Four component vaccines include the same three viruses above plus an additional B Virus called * B/Phuket/3073/2013- Like Virus (B/Yamagata Lineage)
The CDC recommends that Flumist Quadrivalent not be used during the 2016-2017 influenza season because of concern’s regarding this vaccines effectiveness.
For more information
National Council on Aging- www.ncoa.org/flu