The annual flu season is running its course across the continental United States, and it’s an exceptionally nasty one this time around. Patients with flu-like symptoms have flooded ERs and doctors’ offices in rates that haven’t been seen since the infamous “Swine Flu” outbreak in 2009. We’re having more hospitalizations than we have in nearly 10 years. According to The Washington Post, at least 63 children have already died from the flu.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s outbreak.
What makes this year’s outbreak so bad?
Four different flu strains are floating around this year, the most dominant of which is H3N2—the worst of them all. Vaccines tend to be less effective in preventing this particular strain, and it is a fast-mutating monster of a bug that is associated with a higher number of hospitalizations and lost lives than other strains.
We’ve also had an increased number of cases over the span of four weeks, which is an unusually long period of time.
The flu is a virus that affects the upper respiratory system. Symptoms may include
- Muscle aches
- Fatigue and weakness
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Diarrhea and vomiting (particularly in children)
The flu is dangerous because it can result in life-threatening complications. Pneumonia, a lung infection, is the most common cause of flu-related deaths, but it can also be caused by heart attack or sepsis—a condition in which the immune system over-responds to the virus and destroys healthy cells.
Young children also tend to be at higher risk of developing a bacterial infection alongside the flu, which can be deadly and potentially lead to sepsis. They may also experience dehydration from diarrhea or vomiting.
Though just about anyone can fall victim to the flu, it presents a higher risk for
- Children under the age of 5
- Pregnant women
- The elderly
- Those with a chronic health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or asthma
Experts cite two things you and your family can do to protect yourselves from the flu: get vaccinated and stop the spread of germs.
Admittedly, the flu vaccine is not as effective as many other vaccines, due to the virus’s variability and unpredictability year by year. However, it certainly offers more protection than getting nothing at all, and you’re less likely to experience complications if you do get the flu. If your family hasn’t been vaccinated yet, it’s not too late. Visit a pharmacy, doctor’s office, or walk-in clinic to get one.
It’s also important to stop germs in their tracks. Properly wash your hands with soap and water, regularly disinfect commonly-touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and TV remotes, and stay home if you’re not feeling well. Also be sure to cover coughs and sneezes, as flu can be transmitted through the air as well as through contact with contaminants. Practice good hygiene always, as an infected person can be contagious even before they develop any symptoms.
If you or a loved one gets the flu and it looks like it’s going to be a severe case (or you are in one of the high-risk groups), call your doctor, as they may be able to prescribe an anti-viral medication that you or your loved one can take within 48 hours of getting sick. Otherwise, follow average protocols for sickness: stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids, and take over-the-counter medications to ease the symptoms, if desired. Remember that since the flu is a virus, antibiotics won’t do you any good, so don’t take them!
Get medical help right away if your symptoms are severe, you are in the high-risk group, your fever lasts for more than 3 days, your symptoms get better and then get worse, you’re not getting any better after a week, or you start to develop symptoms like difficulty breathing or pain when swallowing.
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.