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Influenza and Influenza-like Illness Manners

Every influenza (flu) season is predictably unpredictable, with the current one a prime example, thanks to an unexpected virus strain becoming predominate early on in this flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the influenza B strain is currently the most common. Influenza B viruses circulate every year, yet they generally are seen more often at the end of flu season, toward spring. Influenza A viruses typically initiate the flu season, but this year B virus accounts for 60% of the circulating U.S. viruses, whereas in the last three years, the B strain accounted for fewer than 10% of the viruses.

For elderly adults, the A virus normally has greatest impact in terms of hospitalizations and mortality. Yet, influenza B tends to hit pediatric patients and young adults disproportionately harder.

The CDC recent data estimates flu has caused 15 million illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths so far. In the U.S., more than half of positive flu tests have occurred in those under age 25. Only 12% involved adults 65 and older. Sadly, total pediatric deaths have totaled 54 for the 2019-20 season.

Remember, influenza and influenza-like illness, e.g., colds, are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by viruses spread person to person by droplets through air or from surfaces.

Now the headlines grab our attention with a coronavirus outbreak, which originated in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It also is a viral respiratory illness that can progress to pneumonia and potentially cause death. Researchers are unsure how easily the coronavirus can be transmitted from an infected person to others, or what the fatality rate may be. Nonetheless, it should be taken seriously.

Influenza rarely gets this sort of attention, although it kills more Americans each year than any other virus, according to researchers at Baylor College of Medicine. Americans aren’t afraid of the flu; perhaps they are bored with the yearly warnings. Fewer than half of adults received a flu vaccine last season. Even among children, who can be especially vulnerable to a respiratory illness, only 62% received the vaccine.

Influenza-like illnesses may have started with a cough or sneeze. Then you may feel like someone beat you with a stick: headache, fever, chills, sore throat, congestion, body aches, fatigue. No doubt the flu is at least miserable and at worst, if you are susceptible, deadly.

The best defense against respiratory viruses is to AVOID getting them in the first place. Remember vaccines!

For your health and others, stay home and get rest. You are sick and very contagious. Return to work or school 24 hours after the fever resolves and you feel better.

For the fever, by which your body has turned up the heat to fight the infection, drink plenty of fluids and take fever-lowering medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Throat lozenges and vaporizers/humidifiers may be helpful. Antiviral medications may be beneficial if started early. Call your doctor or seek urgent evaluation if there is difficulty breathing, evidence of dehydration, confusion or fainting.

Remember your flu manners: practice cough hygiene by covering your mouth, or cough/sneeze into your elbow. Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, and wash counter tops.

Generally influenza and influenza-like illnesses are self-limiting and resolve without complications. Yet, as noted above, complications may include pneumonia, respiratory failure, heart complications and others.

At this time, something far deadlier than the Wuhan coronavirus lurks near you right here in America-influenza and influenza-like illnesses. As the novel coronavirus evolves, remember at this time it is about travel history, be aware and not fearful. Practice your flu manners.

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