It’s been a quiet influenza season so far—very quiet. It’s November and Los Angeles, for example, has seen almost no flu activity. This is good but failing to prepare may mean preparing to fail so though we are inundated with info about the flu, here are 10 flu facts you may not know:
- During the month of October, there has been almost no flu activity in Los Angeles County (LAC) and across the country. This was not true last year where we had an earlier season.
- Early reports nationwide show flu A H3N2 is the most commonly identified strain, which is included in the 2014 – 2015 season influenza vaccine (Yipee!).
- Not the flu. If you were sick during the summer and fall, you had another respiratory virus like rhinovirus and enterovirus not “the flu” from influenza.
- How good is the vaccine? Looking back a few years, the flu shot was ok but not great. Overall vaccine effectiveness for the 2012 – 2013 season was estimated to be 56%. It’s still the best tool we have.
- Over-the-counter meds. Because you can spread influenza to others by coughing, sneezing, or talking, we encourage you to stay home if you have the flu. Use the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to help manage your symptoms if you have mild to moderate influenza. A shocking fact is that OTC meds like Tylenol, Mucinex, decongestants, etc. provide an estimated $102 billion in annual savings for the US healthcare system. Using OTC meds = decreased use of the healthcare system and you won’t be in the waiting room getting others sick. Don’t get me wrong, if you have severe symptoms, like shortness of breath or if you can’t keep food down, you need to see your doctor.
- Which flu shot should I get? If you are over 65 look for the high dose trivalent vaccine if you can find it, that is better for you than the standard dose trivalent vaccine. Quadrivalent influenza vaccines may be used interchangeably with trivalent vaccines.
- Go for the Quad if you can. The quadrivalent influenza vaccine, which covers four strains instead of three, has been around for two years. The quad reduces influenza cases, hospitalizations, and deaths compared with a trivalent vaccine. Not everyone has it but if you have access to it, get it.
- Pass the flu please. How do you get it? Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or possibly their nose.
- Period of contagiousness. You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Stay home if you can, really.
- How serious is the flu? Every flu season I have seen at least one death due to Influenza at our hospital. Influenza can be complicated by pneumonia, which is a serious infection or inflammation of the lungs, and this is how it kills you. Influenza is the only infectious disease still in the top 10 causes of death in the United States. In some age groups it’s top 6.