By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
The annual fall and winter flu season is upon us once again. Although most flu activity peaks between December and February, the season can last as late as May.
Last year's flu epidemic was one of the worst in a decade and authorities warn that we can expect another active flu season this year.
On September 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) kicked off the 2018-2019 flu vaccine campaign at a press conference in Washington, D.C. They urge everyone over the age of six months to get vaccinated against the annual disease.
As U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told the audience, "The benefits of annual flu vaccination are substantial. It keeps you from getting sick, prevents millions of illnesses and doctors’ visits, and...it's a stimulant to our economy. Most counties across the U.S. report losing millions of dollars each year due to flu-related absences from work. Flu vaccine can save children's lives."
More than 900,000 People Were Hospitalized with the Flu Last Year
The CDC estimates that influenza vaccination during the 2016–2017 season prevented an estimated 5.29 million illnesses, 2.64 million medical visits and 84,700 hospitalizations.
However, the CDC also estimated that more than 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died from flu last season. These estimates emphasize the seriousness and severity of this illness and serve as a strong reminder of the importance of vaccination.
Moreover, if vaccination rates increased by just five percent across the entire population, that could prevent:
- 483,000 illnesses
- 232,000 medical visits
- 6,950 hospitalizations associated with influenza
What Is the Flu and Its Symptoms?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness.
Most people who come down with the flu recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people develop complications such as pneumonia. Older people, young children and people with certain health conditions are at a high risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or death, the CDC warns.
For example, last year's flu epidemic killed about 100 people in Kentucky, including 20 children by February 2018. On October 8, 2018, Kentucky reported the state's first flu-related death for this flu season.
The flu usually comes on suddenly. Victims will often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.
The CDC says the flu differs from the common cold in several ways:
- While flu symptoms come on suddenly, colds appear gradually.
- Flu fevers usually last three to four days; a fever with a cold is rare.
- Headaches are common with the flu but rare with a cold.
- Sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat are common with a cold, but occur only occasionally with the flu.
- Chest discomfort, sometimes severe, is common with the flu but rare with a cold.
Dr. Adams offers three steps to fight the flu:
- The first and best defense is to get a flu vaccine.
- Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs with the Three Cs: cover, contain and clean. Clean your hands frequently; cover your cough or sneeze in a tissue or into your arm; contain – if you're sick, stay home.
- Take antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. Those people who are very sick and those who are at risk of serious flu complications need to get treated quickly.