‘Dangerous’ flu season starting

October 9, 2017

Flu season is at our doorsteps and medical professionals are warning this year’s flu season could be a particularly bad one.

Experts are sounding the alarm, saying this flu season could be a dangerous one.

So far in Terry County, only two flu tests have returned positive, but Brownfield Regional Medical Center is seeing an influx of patients with upper respiratory complications, according to Susie Sosa, Manager of the hospital’s Rural Health Clinic.

“There is a virus going around that has most of the symptoms of flu, like fever and body ache, but test results come back negative for flu,” she said. “But to the people who have contracted it, they feel like they have the flu. It isn’t fun.”

The unwelcome virus is working its way toward Brownfield and the South Plains, with numerous reports of positives already in Amarillo and other Panhandle communities.

And while the timing varies in different parts of the country, most flu activity — influenza-like illness, hospitalizations and, sadly, even deaths – occurs between now through winter.  

Flu shots are the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications.

This year, health officials are turning-up the volume in advising early flu vaccinations as we brace for what is being anticipated as one of the biggest flu seasons on record.

The flu vaccine already is available at BRMC and local pharmacies.

“It seems a bit early for some people to get their flu shot, but we’re already well into October and we’re seeing and hearing more reports of flu in the area, so it’s probably not a bad idea to go ahead and get the shot,” said BRMC CNO Chris Beard. “We are gearing up for a busier season than we have seen in a while. We’re being told that this year’s flu is a more virulent strain and people will be sicker than normal. Some reports I am seeing are classifying this year’s flu season as ‘dangerous.’”

There are several important steps we can take to help prevent contracting and spreading the virus.

“It seems like common sense that we have all heard for most of our lives, but wash your hands and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough,” Beard said.

“Hot water and soap are best, but antibacterial
hand sanitizer is better than nothing.”

What is the seasonal flu?

A highly contagious and serious illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu attacks the respiratory system, causing a runny nose, cough, and sore throat—similar to the common cold.

Additionally, it can wreak havoc over the entire body with headaches, muscle or body aches, fever of 100 degrees or higher, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children).

And, it doesn’t stop there, it can lead to a number of complications, particularly in children aged 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women, adults older than 65 years of age, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic health conditions (e.g., heart disease, lung disease, diabetes).  

What complications can result from the flu? They range from moderate to serious and include:

• Ear and sinus infections
• Bronchitis, pneumonia
• Dehydration
• Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), muscle and brain (encephalitis)
• Multi-organ failure of the kidneys (that may require hemodialysis) or respiratory system (that may require placement of a breathing tube and being hooked up to a breathing machine)
• Sepsis (the body’s life-threatening response to infection)

In addition, those with chronic health conditions may experience serious worsening of their disease that requires hospitalization and, in some cases, can result in death. Examples include:

• A person with heart disease can have an increased work load on their heart (increased heart rate from fever or dehydration) resulting in chest pain and even a heart attack
• Diabetics generally have a more difficult time fighting infections and the added stress can result in dangerously elevated blood sugar levels. Those with insulin dependent diabetes may even enter into a diabetic coma.
• People with lung illnesses such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema can experience wheezing, shortness or breath, and decreases in their oxygen levels

 Widespread Impact:

In the United States, despite having greater access to vaccinations and superior living conditions to many countries, we still see millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and, on average, 24,000 deaths a year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Many forget that this is a major killer—and have the notion that the flu shot really is not necessary.

And despite the fact that the flu is particularly dangerous in young children and those over the age of 65 years, only about seventy-five percent of babies and toddlers were vaccinated and only about sixty-six percent of older adults were vaccinated last flu season.

Experts stress the importance of getting immunized – it not only protects you, but those around you.

It is important to note that those who are immunized and still catch the flu, generally have a decreased risk of complications, hospitalizations, and death. In other words, the flu shot blunts the impact and offers a level of protection.

It usually takes our body’s immune system up to 2 weeks to manufacture the antibodies that can attack the influenza virus, so it is important to get vaccinated early.

Also, infants and children up to age 8 years of age receiving the flu shot for the first time may need two doses of the vaccine (four weeks apart) to become fully immunized.

So, it is important that they get their first dose now so they can complete both doses ASAP.

And, too, unlike some other immunizations that offer lifetime or many years of protection (e.g., pneumococcal, measles), you must get the flu shot every year.

This is because the circulating influenza viruses change from year to year and also immunity to them wanes (fades).   

Discuss options and forms of vaccines with your health care provider or pharmacist, for which is best for you.

Can I get sick from the flu shot?

No, because the flu shot is formulated from inactivated/dead virus, this is impossible.

However, when someone does get the flu shortly after, it is likely that they were exposed to the influenza virus before antibodies were formed.

Again, it is important to note that even if this does occur, you are less likely to experience pneumonia, time lost from work, hospitalizations, and death.  

Other everyday preventive actions: The influenza virus is most commonly spread via aerosolized droplets that can travel up to 6 feet.

It is important to stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing. The virus can also survive on surfaces or objects and infect a person if they touch their mouth or nose.

The flu can be contagious for up to a week after symptoms start, so it’s important for anyone who is infected to stay home from work or school.

The flu virus is common and unpredictable. It can be a nasty illness, even fatal.  

While some experience milder symptoms, they can be awful to deal with, including being unable to work for days, needing to look after an ill child home from school or visiting the very sick who have been hospitalized.

It’s important to get immunized, not just to protect yourself but also those around you.

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