woman with flu and thermometer

Defend against viral invasion with three simple steps

 

The flu season this year is nothing to sneeze at. The current H3N2 subtype of influenza A is a particularly severe strain that is affecting not only the young, old, and ill, but is also striking down people in their prime. This virulent flu strain is associated with an increased number of hospitalizations and deaths, and by the end of the first week of January the rate of flu hospitalizations in the US alone had spiked to 22.7 cases per 100,000 individuals, with deaths from severe secondary complications reaching epidemic proportions.1 I find it noteworthy that this particular flu season, which involves key reassorted genes descended from the H3N2 virus of 1918, falls on the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that wiped out approximately 50 million people worldwide.2 Fortunately, advancements to reduce influenza’s impact have significantly evolved over the past century.

But perhaps our confidence in modern medical achievement is the reason why so many of us are historically rather cavalier in our attitudes toward the flu. We either don’t bother getting a flu shot, thinking that we’ll be immune to anything serious happening, or we try to power through the illness, thus reducing our ability to fight it off while exposing others. The problem is, you just can’t predict when you might encounter the flu or how badly you may react to infection from a certain viral strain. And although most people recover within a few days to up to a week or two, serious secondary complications such as pneumonia, septic shock, and death may occur.

So what can be done? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a three-pronged approach in the war against influenza.3 The first step is getting vaccinated, and although we’re in the midst of the flu season now it’s not too late to get your flu shot since viral activity may not peak until March.4 Step two is preventing viral spread by frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face after contact with surfaces and objects, and covering your coughs and sneezes since respiratory droplets can land on others up to six feet away. And finally, if you come down with the flu despite your best efforts, the third step is to ask your doctor to prescribe an antiviral drug within 48 hours of symptom onset. Taking these three simple steps will protect loved ones, friends, coworkers, and the community, and help you personally reduce lost time at work, home, and play.

You can learn more about the flu and view influenza recovery durations by checking out MDGuidelines’ Influenza topic. And if you need a bit more motivation to finally get that flu shot, take a look at the recovery durations for common secondary complications of the flu, including pneumonia and septic shock, while you’re logged on.

 

  1. “FluView – Weekly US Influenza Surveillance Report: 2017-2018 Influenza Season Week 1 Ending January 6, 2018.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NICIRD). 12 Jan. 2018. US Department of Health & Human Services. 18 Jan. 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm.
  2. Tabenberger, J.K., and D.M. Morens. “1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics.” Emerg Infect Dis. 12 1 (2006): 15-22.
  3. “CDC Says ‘Take 3’ Actions to Fight the Flu.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NICIRD). 11 Sep. 2017. US Department of Health & Human Services. 18 Jan. 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.
  4. “Current and Past Flu Seasons.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NICIRD). 4 Jan. 2018. US Department of Health & Human Services. 18 Jan. 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/index.html.