If you have forgotten what a real flu season is like, it is with good reason. “Last year we virtually had no flu; it was an amazing year,” according to Evan Bell, MD, infectious disease, Mount Nittany Physician Group. “This year we have flu, and it arrived a bit ahead of schedule.”
There are a number of things to do to help prevent the flu, but getting a flu shot tops the list. Dr. Bell says, “It’s not too late. It does take several weeks to be really effective, so don’t delay,” he said.
Mount Nittany Medical Center first noted an abrupt increase in cases beginning the week of December 17, and that high level of activity has continued. " We had almost a 50 percent increase from Dec. 17 to Dec. 26,” according to Marlene Stetson, RN, CIC, infection control coordinator, Mount Nittany Medical Center.
Most of the lab-confirmed cases of influenza at the Medical Center have been under the age of 30, and about half of those are under ten years old. Ten percent of patients that tested positive for influenza have required inpatient care, said Stetson.
“It’s important to note that lab-confirmed cases only represent the tip of the iceberg. Many more patients have not been tested, and still others that actually have influenza test negative—a false negative,” said Stetson.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH), most of the respiratory samples submitted to the Bureau of Laboratories for confirmatory testing are now testing positive for influenza, which means influenza should be considered as the likely cause of illness in persons presenting with flu-like symptoms.
The common cold and other non-flu respiratory viruses can also be a culprit influenza-like-illness since these viruses are co-circulating with influenza at lower levels, according to the PDH.
Flu symptoms, unlike colds, usually include very high fever of 104 degrees, chills, and body aches. The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is to stay home. “Don’t go to work, and don’t go to school. It’s a contagious disease,” says Dr. Bell.
Physicians have long recommended hand washing as another preventative measure. How many times a day should people wash their hands? Dr. Bell says that every time people are exposed to the virus through touching the objects that others have touched in a public place—like the carts and items at the grocery store—they should wash their hands afterwards.
Many parents are concerned when their children present flu symptoms, thinking it could be something even worse. Dr. Bell’s advice is to consult a physician at any time. “If your child has a persistent high fever, is confused, or just doesn’t look right to you, then don’t hesitate to see your doctor.”
At the national level, just as in the state, the number of cases of lab-confirmed influenza-like-illness reported so far this season is much higher than what was reported at this time last year.
Strain typing suggests that influenza seen this season is primarily due to influenza A/H3N2, the subtype generally associated with more severe illness and a greater impact on the elderly.
According to the Center for Disease Control, currently circulating viruses are well matched to the antigens contained in this year’s influenza vaccine, and the vaccine is widely available.