Flu season just started and isn’t over until March —could you be at risk for getting the flu or putting others at risk?
Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to death. Missouri is one of the 14 states still reporting widespread cases of the flu this season, giving residents ample reason to take precautions.
“The flu is not a pleasant illness for anyone, but most people will recover from it with rest and won’t need medical attention,” said Bret Riegel, MD, medical director for the emergency department at Mercy Hospital Washington.
“People most at risk for serious complications are the very young, the elderly and people who have existing health issues that suppress their immune, respiratory or cardiovascular systems, or they have other chronic diseases.”
People with blood illnesses and pregnant women also are at risk. In pregnant women, flu complications can lead to premature labor, miscarriage and serious harm to the mother.
“We need to protect these populations the most, and they often catch the flu from healthy people who don’t think they need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Riegel.
This flu season, 20 children have died from flu-related illnesses nationwide.
Flu cases at Mercy Hospital Washington peaked at the end of December. Patients complained of fever, body aches and cough. Most of those cases were Influenza A, and there were more cases this year than at the same time last year.
“We saw a spike at the end of December and then numbers went down, but flu season usually peaks between January and March, so it’s possible we could see another spike again. That’s why we’re encouraging people to be diligent and take precautions,” said Dr. Riegel.
A healthy adult can spread the flu virus for one full day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. People who have the flu should stay home and avoid contact with others to prevent spreading.
Frequent hand washing stops the spread of diseases including the flu virus. People should always cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue and not their hands. And they should wear a surgical mask to protect themselves and others from inhaling or exhaling the virus — or receive a flu vaccination.
“The most effective way we know to keep people from getting the flu is for them to get a flu vaccination. If you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Dr. Riegel said. “It’s safe, we have different types available, and most importantly, it protects you and the people you come into contact with who have high risk factors for flu complications.”
There are many outlets for the vaccine. Mercy offers them without an appointment at most Mercy Urgent Care and Mercy Convenient Care locations and by appointment at most Mercy Clinic physicians’ offices.
Mercy believes so strongly in protecting individuals and communities from the flu virus that co-workers, physicians and volunteers are required to receive a vaccination or wear a surgical mask during the height of flu season. Visitors who are not vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear masks at Mercy facilities and masks are provided.
“Although viruses can outsmart us, we can take steps to try to outsmart them. It takes a community to keep communities safe from viruses. The more people participate, the more people we can keep safe,” said Dr. Riegel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that vaccinations prevented 79,000 flu hospitalizations and 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses during the 2012-13 influenza season.
For more flu immunization facts visit http://www.mercy.net/newsroom/2013-10-04/flu-arrives-early-docs-encourage-shots.