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It's Officially Flu Season

Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015, by Ashley Snyder

by Dr. Kathryne Buege

Happy New Year!

As we enter 2015, it is, naturally, the time for some life-changing decisions, fresh starts, reflection and preparation for the year ahead.  Of course, we all have our resolutions and make plans to make some changes or improvements in our lives.  I find this time of year to be a time of reflection for me, as I found myself thinking about how fortunate I was to be able to spend time with family out of state this holiday season.

Having returned to Buffalo and to work, my colleagues and I have been reminiscing about how 2014 "flu" by.  Yes, the year did seem to fly by very quickly, but more importantly the flu was especially prevalent this year.  We are faces with a staggering amount of cases of influenza in the area.  Here is a brief update on the virus, what you need to do to prevent it, and - most importantly - how to recognize the symptoms and treat them.

A few highlights of this year's flu:

  • We have seen almost three times as many cases of the flu as compared to last year
  • Hospitals have started to limit visitors
  • The general consensus: it will get worse before it gets better
  • All ages have been affected
  • Mostly seeing Influenza A
  • Emergency rooms are very busy due to the increase in flu-related complications and staff shortages due to respiratory illness

So how do you prevent the flu?  Get a flu vaccine! This is the most important preventative measure.

But how do you know if you have the flu?  The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever, but not every flu patient will have a fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

What should you do if you get sick?

  • Contact your health care provider
  • Most people have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs
  • Stay home!  
    • Rest and drink plenty of water and other clear fluids to prevent dehydration
    • Make a "sick room," if you can to isolate illness and prevent others from getting sick
    • Treat fever and cough with medications you can buy over the counter, but ask your pharmacist for advice, if needed.
  • Avoid contact with other people
  • Wear a face mask if you have one and need to leave home to seek medical care
  • Remember, most people have mild illness and the Center for Disease Control recommends staying home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, excluding seeking medical care or other necessities.

People at high risk of developing flu-related complications:

  • Children younger than 5, especially those under the age of 2
  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Asthma patients
  • Blood disorder patients (i.e. sickle cell anemia)
  • Patients with kidney or endocrine disorders (i.e. diabetes)
  • Those with heart disease
  • Those with chronic lung disease
  • Patients with neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions
  • Anyone whose immune system has been weakened, either by disease or medication.  This can include, patients undergoing cancer or immunosuppressive therapy, chronic steroid users, or those with HIV or AIDS.

What are some signs that I should seek immediate medical attention?

In children, look for:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
    • Significantly fewer wet diapers
    • No tears when crying
  • Fever with rash
  • Excessive irritability and not wanting to be held
  • Not waking up or interacting

In adults, some signs are:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Pain or persistent vomiting
  • Return of flu-like symptoms with worsening cough or fever

When in doubt, contact your health care provider immediately.  If they are not available, get to your nearest emergency room or MASH Urgent Care.  MASH is open every day from 8:30 am to 9:00 - even on holidays.  And remember - get your flu vaccine!  It's not too late, and most health care facilities and pharmacies still have them available.  Have a safe and healthy start to the new year!