Worst Flu Season in Recent Years Makes Treatment and Prevention Crucial
This flu season is turning out to be one of the worst in recent years with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting last week that the flu is now widespread in 46 states. The Greater Cincinnati region is among the areas experiencing a significant increase in cases of the flu with emergency rooms filling up with patients suffering from the flu or flu-like symptoms such as cough, fever and body aches.
“The isolation list at our facilities has doubled and in some cases tripled compared to what we normally see throughout the year,” said Carolyn Fiutem, an Infection Prevention Officer with TriHealth.
As the CDC reports, the 2017-2018 flu has been worse than normal because this year’s prevalent strain, the H3N2 virus, is especially severe and has proven to be more resistant to flu vaccinations – with flu shots this year being only about 30 percent effective.
Stephen Blatt, MD, Director for Infectious Diseases with TriHealth Physician Partners said the H3N2 virus is posing a significant risk to elderly patients, young children and those with chronic illness.
“It’s especially attacking elderly patients aggressively,” he said, “and we have seen an increase of cases that turn into pneumonia, sometimes landing patients in the intensive care unit.”
According to Fiutem, the severity of the H3N2 virus and risk of pneumonia also increase when paired with four other non-influenza respiratory viruses that are circulating this year. However, she said flu shots are still effective against most influenza strains, so it’s still important to get one in spite of the lower success rate against H3N2 this year.
When and how to get help
Dr. Blatt stresses that those who are more at risk such as the elderly, young children and chronically ill should seek medical assistance if they experience regular flu symptoms such as persistent cough, body aches and fever. However, he said everybody should seek medical attention if they experience these more severe symptoms:
- Persistent fever of over 102 F°
- Worsening shortness of breath
- Chest pain
According to Dr. Blatt, the best place to go for care for the flu is your primary care physician because they know your health history and provide personalized care. Those without a primary care physician can find a nearby TriHealth doctor online or by calling 513 569 5400.
Those who are unable to see a primary care physician on short notice or who need immediate care due to elevating symptoms can visit an urgent care facility such as TriHealth Priority Care. Visit the Priority Care web site to find your nearest location, view current wait times and “reserve your spot” in line before you arrive.
Dr. Blatt said those experiencing more serious symptoms such as severe shortness of breath, confusion or weakness and inability to get up should immediately seek emergency medical attention.
Prevention and stopping the spread of the flu
Fiutem and Dr. Blatt agree that the best way to protect yourself against the flu is still getting a flu shot, even considering the lowered effectiveness against H3N2.
“This year’s vaccination is still effective against other strains that can lead to further complications,” Fiutem said, “and even in confirmed H3N2 cases, it can help lessen the severity of the symptoms. It’s important to get one as soon as possible, though, if you haven’t done so. The vaccination takes about two weeks to become effective.”
According to Dr. Blatt, other methods of protecting yourself against the flu or preventing the spread of the virus include:
- Frequent and thorough handwashing
- Trying not to touch your face and nose area
- Covering your nose and mouth (but not with your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Sneeze into your elbow.
- Avoiding contact with people with cold or flu symptoms
- Staying away from at-risk groups if you are experiencing symptoms
- Staying home from work or school if you are experiencing symptoms
According to Dr. Blatt, the flu can be treated with antivirals such as physician-prescribed Tamiflu.
“This is especially important for high-risk patients,” he said. “It can lessen the severity of the symptoms and sometimes shorten the duration of the illness.”