CULLMAN – The flu season is a dreaded time for all. It causes hospitals and doctor’s offices to fill up, resulting in lengthy wait times and more chances for germs to spread through the community. This year has been of particular interest across the country as an unexpected strain of flu virus A has spread and is not hindered by this year’s vaccine.
There is a lot of media hype because of this new strain, and in some areas like Tennessee, a higher fatality rate among children has been seen. With 22 states seeing high flu activity, and the CDC declaring it an epidemic, it can be easy to allow a feeling of panic to sink in. Registered Nurse Marti Smith, Infection Prevention and Health Manager at Cullman Regional Medical Center, explained why the vaccine is not working properly this year.
“The CDC selects the components for the flu vaccine a year in advance to give the drug companies time to manufacture the flu vaccine. Their guess for this flu season was not accurate, and the flu vaccine this year does not protect from a particular strain of Flu A that has been circulating.”
While much of the media attention has focused on the danger for children, it is important to remember that young children and the elderly are always those at the greatest risk in any flu season. This is why Smith still encourages everyone to get themselves and children vaccinated every year.
“The annual flu vaccine is still our best protection against the flu. Sometimes, the flu vaccine can decrease the flu symptoms in those who do get the flu.”
While many parts of Alabama and the south are seeing higher hospitalizations due to flu, Smith says that here in Cullman that is not the case.
“We have seen over 100 cases of the flu in our ER this flu season, which is slightly less than the number seen this time last year. We had five inpatients with the flu in our hospital yesterday.”
The H3N2 subtype has been the culprit for 90 percent of cases of flu this year, and any of the H3 subtypes typically lead to higher rates of hospitalization. Another issue that is concerning experts is the growing trend of an earlier and earlier peak of flu season.
“There is something unusual going on with the flu,” ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said in an interview on Good Morning America. “For the past four years, the flu has started to peak at the end of December. It used to be that the flu didn’t have its rise until February. For some reason it has started coming earlier and hitting during the holiday season.”
This is a particularly strong strain of flu, but Marti Smith from Cullman Regional Medical Center says that the usual precautions are to be taken as with any other flu season.
“Watch for a fever of 100 degrees or higher and feeling feverish, as not everyone with the flu has a fever,” said Smith. “A cough or sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, which are most common in children. Parents need to monitor their children for signs and symptoms of the flu and contact their physician for advice on how to care for their children if sick with the flu. Children with chronic illnesses are most at risk and should be treated promptly to avoid complications.”
It is also important to remember to protect yourself and others during peak times of illness in the area by not leaving your home while sick and infecting others. Try to limit outings to crowded areas with children to limit chances of exposure. Frequent hand washing is still one of the best lines of defense against illness and should be engrained into children for their protection. We will be out of the woods before we know it, but we are not there yet, so continue to use the tips above to help yourself and the community stay well.