Flu Season: What You Should Know About Influenza and How to Prevent It
Flu Rates are on the Rise:
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu activity in the United States has increased over the past two weeks. This peak is an indication of an early flu season, which usually peaks in mid-February. People at particular risk for flu and its complications are pregnant women, both young and elderly, and anyone with a chronic illness, including asthma and epilepsy.
Flu, the result of an infection with the influenza virus, spreads easily from person to person via droplets made when someone coughs, sneezes or talks. The droplets of an infected person can land those nearby thus spreading the illness. Less commonly, flu virus may be on a surface or an object touched by someone who then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. Those infected with the flu virus can be contagious for up to 7-10 days, even after symptoms have subsided so it is important to practice good hand hygiene. Pediatricians recommend everyone over the age of six months get the flu vaccine, which has been shown to be an excellent match for the strains of flu virus currently circulating (mostly H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B). Complications of flu infection can include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration or worsening of underlying medical conditions.
Signs and Symptoms of the Flu:
-Fever (in most, but not all, cases)
-Runny or stuffy nose
-Muscle or body aches
-Vomiting and diarrhea, especially in young children
If you think you may have the flu, or have not yet received your vaccine for this year, speak with your doctor. Serious side effects from the flu vaccine are very rare. If they do occur, it’s within a few minutes to a few hours after getting the shot. As with most vaccines, it is important to note that the benefits of getting a flu shot far outweigh the risk of side effects.
Dr. Corey Wasserman is a resident pediatrician at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology with an emphasis on child development at Bucknell University and went on to attend Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where she received her M.D. and graduated with high honors.