The flu is widespread in Pennsylvania and across the continental United States. To date, this flu season is notable for the sheer volume of flu that most of the country is seeing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
People are being hospitalized and the very young and the very old are being particularly hard hit. Flu activity is likely to continue for several more weeks.
What is the flu?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness that can result in hospitalization and, in some cases, death. Anyone can get the flu at any age. The elderly and young children are more likely to have complications from the flu.
According to the CDC, people who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Feeling very tired
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults.
How the flu spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by from person to person by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface that has flu virus on it, like a doorknob or light switch, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes before washing their hands.
"People are contagious 24 hours prior to displaying symptoms," adds Bridget McEnrue, director of Infection Prevention for Doylestown Health.
You can give the flu to someone both before and up toabout a week after becoming sick.
The flu vaccine
The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against flu, a serious disease. Vaccines are recommended around October or late fall.
However, getting a flu shot later in the season is still beneficial. Vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, into January or later. But sooner is better.
Remember, "It takes about two weeks after you get a flu shot to build up immunity to protect against flu," says Bridget.
This season's flu
According to the CDC, most of the current flu activity has been caused by influenza A(H3N2), which is associated with severe illness in young children and people over 65.
You may have heard that this season's vaccine is not entirely effective. That's basically true – it's estimated at around 30 percent – but it's still the best defense against getting the flu. And it may make the flu more bearable.
"Though the vaccine may not provide 100 percent coverage, symptoms are less severe and are present for a shorter duration with vaccine versus no vaccine," says Bridget.
If you get the flu, the CDC recommends antiviral medications for treatment, taken as soon as possible once symptoms have started. These drugs can make you feel better faster and also may prevent serious complications.
Everyday tips to stop the spread of germs
"To prevent getting sick, wash your hands a lot," says Bridget, "and cover your cough and sneeze to prevent spreading the flu."
When you wash your hands, use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If there's no soap or water, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
After you've covered your cough or sneeze with a tissue, toss it in the trash.
The CDC offers these additional tipsto stop the spread of germs:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
About Doylestown Health
Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 239 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.