Living Well

The Flu is Widespread in New Jersey: How to Protect Yourself

Last updated: Feb 13, 2017

Empty offices and quiet classrooms usually mean one thing come January and February—flu season is in full swing. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) report that flu activity is higher this year when compared with the same time last year and spreading rapidly in 40 states throughout the country. The virus is expected to continue to spread in the coming weeks.

“Flu activity is really picking up—since mid-January I have seen almost a case per day,” says Daniel E. Hermann, MD, MPH, Chair of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Summit Medical Group. “It is not too late to get your flu shot. Even if the vaccine does not prevent the illness, it will make your symptoms milder, shorten your recovery time, and help prevent serious complications.”

Where is the flu spreading?

  • A strain of the flu, known as Influenza A, is spreading rapidly at a rate of about 12,000 cases per week, reports the CDC. Officials say that number is probably higher since some people with the flu do not see the doctor. 
  • New Jersey, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New York, and South Carolina have the highest levels of flu and flu-like illness activity, according to the CDC.
  • Flu activity generally starts in October, peaks in January and February, and begins to slow down by the end of March.

What is the difference between the flu and the common cold?

  • While there is some overlap, people with the flu typically experience more severe symptoms than when they have a cold.
  • Symptoms of the flu usually include: fever, chills, body aches, extreme fatigue, cough, and sore throat.
  • Colds are usually milder and often include a runny or stuffy nose.  
  • The flu also tends to come on more suddenly than a cold.  

Should I see the doctor if I think I have the flu?

  • If your first symptom started less than 48 hours ago, your doctor can test you for the flu and prescribe Tamiflu. If your fever lasts more than five days you should see a physician to rule out a secondary infection, such as pneumonia.
  • Tamiflu is an antiviral medication that can reduce flu symptoms and shorten the amount of time you are sick.
  • It is particularly important to be tested for the flu if you are elderly, immune compromised, pregnant, or have an infant at home.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers and decongestants can help alleviate symptoms. Make sure to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Is it too late to get the flu shot?

  • No. The flu vaccine can still help protect you against the virus.
  • The CDC recommends that anyone six months and older get a flu vaccine every year by the end of October. Children, the elderly, and individuals with chronic health conditions are more likely to catch the flu.
  • Some seasons, the immunization is more effective. Studies show the vaccine generally reduces the risk of flu illness by 50 to 60 percent. 
  • However, if you do get the flu, the vaccine will make your illness milder.
  • The flu mist should not be used for the 2016-2017 flu season.

How do I avoid spreading the flu?

  • The flu is spread through respiratory droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, talk, or breathe.
  • Stay home if you have the flu. Wash your hands frequently. Cover your cough. Do not share utensils.
  • You can spread the flu one day before your symptoms begin and up to a week after you become sick.

Should I be worried about flu-related complications?

  • Unless you have a chronic medical condition or a compromised immune system, complications from the flu are usually rare. So far, there have been 15 flu-related deaths in children this season.
  • The most common complications in healthy kids with the flu are ear infections.

References:

  1. Interview with Daniel E. Hermann, MD, MPH, Chair of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Summit Medical Group.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 February 2017. Web
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2016-2017 Influenza Season. 24 January 2017.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FluView: A Weekly Surveillance Report Prepared by the Influenza Division. 3 February 2017. 

 

 

 

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