A sharp spike in flu deaths among children was reported Friday by the CDC. Called the worst flu season in a decade, another 22 children died last week. Across the US, 84 children have died of the flu since the season began.
But there may be some good news. This week, researchers reported that of the children that died from flu this year, 75% of them had not received the flu shot.
In fact, early estimates are showing that the flu vaccine decreases risk for serious illness by 36%. In kids 9 years or younger, the vaccine appears to be reducing the risk of having to see a doctor by 59%.
The CDC is reminding anyone over the age of 6 months that it is not too late to get the flu shot!
“You’re 36 percent less likely to get the flu and see the doctor if you get a flu shot. If a young child gets a flu shot, he or she is 59 percent less likely to get the virus and have to go to the doctor,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Flu Season Until April?
In addition to finding that the flu vaccine may be more effective than initially though, the CDC also reported that we may be reaching the peak of the flu season. But despite the possible plateau, some experts are still warning that the flu season could go all the way through March and into April.
Urgent cares and ERs are still seeing a much higher than average number of visits related to the flu. The graph on the right shows the percentage of urgent visits remains at nearly all time high levels. In Maryland ERs, over 8% of all visits were for flu illnesses.
Higher Than Average Flu Deaths Predicted in 2018
Each year, 36,000 people die from the flu in the US. According to CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund, this year we could see an estimated 56,000 people dying from the flu and as many as 150 children dying.
Another worrisome finding this year is that in normal years, people over age 65 are the most likely to be hospitalized with kids under age 4 next most likely. This year, people age 50-64 are the 2nd most likely to be hospitalized or to die from the flu.
Compared with past flu seasons that were similar, we may see over 700,000 Americans hospitalized and over 34 million people who will have gotten the flu.
The flu epidemic has begun to hit home here in Annapolis. Last week 2 Anne Arundel county residents were reported to have died of flu and Maryland’s first pediatric death was also reported.
How to Avoid Getting the Flu
Ok. We know the flu season is bad. Now how do we keep from getting the flu when everyone around us is so sick? Answer: do what the experts do. Doctors and nurses are around sick flu patients all day. Find out their secrets — they are surprisingly simple!
1. Wash Your Hands (or Use Hand Sanitizer)
This is the number one thing doctors say they do and recommend for others. “I wash my hands before and after every patient I see,” says Dr. Michael Freedman of Evolve Medical. “In fact, I wash or sanitize pretty much every time I touch someone or something other than my personal items.”
Use warm water and soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Nancy Hughes, MS, RN, director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in Silver Spring, Md says, “I use a paper towel to dry my hands and to turn off the faucet, especially in public bathrooms.”
2. Keep Your Hands Away from Your Face
No matter how clean you think your hands may be, keep them away from your face–particularly your nose, mouth and eyes.
People constantly rub their eyes, their nose or touch their mouth. Doctors and nurses swear that keeping their hands away from their face is one of the most critical ways to avoid getting infected.
Things we do every day and are practically subconscious are also big problems.“Computer keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, pens that are given to you when you sign for a credit card purchase or in a doctor’s office — all of these are surfaces that have great potential for harboring germs,” says Neil Schachter, MD, professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu.
Another insider tip: Be careful with lip balm. Use lip balm in a tube during flu season as opposed to something that you use your finger to apply to your lips.
3. Get Your Flu Shot
The flu shot won’t prevent flu…but it will hopefully prevent you from dying (or getting hospitalized) from the flu.
Although this year’s flu shot is not as good as in previous years, the most recent report released Friday by the CDC tells us that 3 out of 4 of the children that died of the flu had not had the vaccine. Which means you can lower your child’s risk of dying from flu substantially by getting the flu shot this year.
And it is not too late! According to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, “You’re 36 percent less likely to get the flu and see the doctor if you get a flu shot. If a young child gets a flu shot, he or she is 59 percent less likely to get the virus and have to go to the doctor.”
Many people don’t get the flu shot because they feel they have gotten the flu from it in years past.
But the flu shot can not–never, ever–give you the flu. Why? Because the flu shot contains an inactivated vaccine made of killed virus. Because the viruses in this vaccine are killed (inactivated), the shot simply can’t cause you to get the flu.
People CAN develop other symptoms, though, that make them think the flu shot made them sick. The important thing to recognize is that though some people feel ill for 1-2 days after getting the flu shot, you then spend the rest of the year being much less likely to die from the flu.
4. Live Healthy
Practice good healthy habits. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, drink plenty of fluids, eat a nutritious diet and manage your stress.There is no better way to prevent flu–or to prevent other illness–other than living a healthy life rich in nutritious food and exercise.
5. To Prevent Flu, Avoid People Coughing and Crowds
Sneezing and coughing is one of the quickest ways to spread a virus. Both a sneeze and a cough are designed to get rid of whatever is bothering your body. Unfortunately, getting rid of germs in such a violent method means spreading germs in a rather large spray of saliva, mucus, irritants and viruses.
If you see someone coughing and sneezing, if possible, move away.
A cough can shoot out 3,000 droplets per cough–at 50 mph.
A sneeze expels up to 100,000 droplets of mucus, virus and junk at up to 100 mph!
6. Natural Ways to Stay Healthy
Although no natural remedy has been proven to be prevent flu specifically, a number of natural or complementary approaches have been shown to help with other viruses that causes colds.
“I swear by them,” says Dr. Freedman of Evolve Medical. “The research is actually very clear.” A sweeping review of the medical research, conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that Zinc lozenges with 13mg of Zinc, taken every 3-4 hours, beginning on the first day of symptoms, shortened the viral illness an average of one day or more and sharply reduced the severity of the symptoms.
Nose and Sinus Rinses
A lot of people are terrified of the Neti-Pot, which some describe as “water-boarding”. Others have no problem using it. There is an alternative to Yeti-Pot called Neil-Med, which is a squirt bottle method. Using the squirt bottle takes away the passive dribble of water and just shoots it up and out.
But be careful, experts say tap water isn’t safe for nasal rinses! It has to be filtered water.
According to the NIH, other approaches such as Vitamin C, Echinacea, garlic and American Ginseng have shown conflicting, mostly negative (potentially harmful) results.
What are the symptoms of flu to look for?
Symptoms usually start very suddenly and often include:
- Fever of 100.4°F to 104°F, which can reach 106°F (41°C)
- Body aches and pain
- Pain when you move your eyes.
- Fatigue, a general feeling of sickness
- Loss of appetite.
- A dry cough, runny nose, and dry or sore throat.
Influenza usually does not cause symptoms in the stomach or intestines, such as vomiting and diarrhea. On the contrary, the “stomach flu” is usually associated with Norovirus or other similar virus. See previous article on Norovirus/stomach bug.
How long is Flu Contagious?
People with flu are contagious beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 10 days after becoming sick.
Unfortunately, a lot of us have returned to work once our fever is gone, around days 3 or 4, but we remain contagious for up to a week more!
Call your doctor or go to an urgent care if:
- You have an extremely high fever (104 F or higher)
- You are finding it more difficult to get a good breath
- New symptoms localized to the ear, throat, chest or sinuses
- Symptoms don’t go away or become more severe
Be sure to be seen within 48 hours of the onset of your fever. This is important as treatment is MOST effective if started within 48 hours!
- People are contagious from the day BEFORE symptoms start
- People are contagious for 5-10 days AFTER the illness starts (days after they feel better and return to work or school.)
If you or someone in your family has sudden onset of high fever, whole body aches, chills and feels generally awful, see your provider right away. We recognize that the only anti-viral treatment available must be started within 2 days of symptom onset.
For more information, visit the Maryland Department of Health’s Flu Watch page or Anne Arundel Health Department of Health’s Flu Tips page.