2016 has been a surprisingly mild winter in Pittsburgh - both in terms of snowfall and in terms of the number of flu cases developing in the area. However, the winter isn’t over just yet - and, as predicted, flu season is beginning to pick up this month. As a result, health officials have begun reminding the public to actively take steps to prevent the flu.
While many experts still expect this year’s flu season to be relatively mild, the fact is that serious cases are still a very real possibility. The C.D.C. recently reported that some severe cases of the flu have already developed, and more are likely on the way. That means now is the time to ensure that you, and your family, are actively taking steps to avoid the worst of this year’s flu strain.
Why All The Fuss About The Flu?
The flu is “a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs”. The symptoms of the flu are fairly infamous, and include fever, headache, coughing, a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, and fatigue. Some patients also develop diarrhea or vomiting, although these symptoms tend to present in children more often than adults.
The virus strain responsible for this illness is particularly infamous for the fact that it changes, or mutates, on a regular basis; as a result, our immune systems can’t always prevent us from getting sick with a case of the flu from year to year. This is why a new flu shot is created every year to try to minimize the effects of the latest flu season.
Just how sick you get after catching the flu ultimately depends on a variety of factors, including the state and health of your immune system, your general physical health, and whether or not you received a flu shot. Because of this, catching the flu doesn’t always turn into a serious medical issue. In fact, the majority of flu cases present as very mild or very severe.
Unfortunately, in some cases, severe symptoms or complications of the flu can indeed lead to a need for more than bed rest. Pneumonia, dehydration, ear or sinus infections, or a worsening of pre-existing conditions can all lead to a patient needing some assistance in managing and overcoming a case of the flu. People who are over the age of 65, children under the age of 4, pregnant women, individuals living with a compromised immune system, and nursing home residents are particularly susceptible to the complications associated with the flu.
What’s Your Flu Risk?
So what can you do to help avoid the worst of this year’s flu strain? The first thing to is identify if you’re living with any risk factors that could increase your chances of developing a serious case of the flu. While some risk factors - such as your age - can’t be helped, we can indeed take actions on the others to minimize our chances of getting sick! With that in mind, the risk factors that you can and should be addressing right now include:
- No flu shot. Not getting immunized against the flu definitely increases your chances of contracting it. Fortunately, while getting a shot now won’t protect you 100% from the flu, the shot can at least take enough of an effect to protect you from the worst of its side effects. Because of this, health officials recommend getting a flu shot this season if you haven’t already.
- Not washing your hands. If you’re avoiding regularly cleaning your hands with soap and water, you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to avoid the flu. To quote the C.D.C., “Handwashing is like a ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine - it involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy.” So definitely be sure to take the time to properly wash your hands this season - it could make all the difference in avoiding getting sick and preventing the spread of germs to others!
- Living an unhealthy lifestyle. If your day-to-day routine doesn’t include a balanced diet, exercise, and regular restful sleep, your immune system may not be in the best shape it can be. A weak immune system is less likely to protect you from the flu. Taking the time and making the effort to live a more balanced lifestyle can make a big difference in your ability to fight off flu bugs - so it’s definitely worth looking into any little positive changes you can make that will make your life healthier.
What Else Can You Do?
In addition to addressing the flu risk factors listed above, the best thing you can do is be aware of the symptoms that develop after you’ve caught a flu bug. While milder symptoms will go away with bed rest and fluids, knowing when to seek help for more serious problems will ensure that your case of the flu doesn’t develop into a medical emergency.
- A cough that won’t stop and that doesn’t improve within several days
- A high fever
- Shortness of breath or chest pains
- Dizziness and/or confusion
- Persistent vomiting
- Generally worsening symptoms that do not improve within a couple of days
Still have questions or concerns about this year’s flu season, and how your health could affect your flu risk? Call your Genesis Medical doctor or reach out through your Patient Portal for advice or to schedule an appointment to review your overall health and flu risk factors. We’ll be sure to work with you to ensure that your health and well-being are in the best shape possible, and will guide you on your journey to a healthier you as needed.