What to know about influenza

TROY — With the dreaded flu season upon us, local and national entities have information to help keep people informed about the risks and complications of the illness, as well as how to stay healthy.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu usually comes on suddenly and can include symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. It’s important to remember, however, that each person responds differently to the illness and not everyone will exhibit the same symptoms.

As with other viral illnesses, there are different types and strains of influenza. This can make vaccination against the illness especially difficult.

According to the Miami County Health Commissioner Dennis Propes, the CDC studies flu strains each year to determine how to produce the most effective flu vaccine.

“The CDC does flu surveillance in the southern hemisphere during our summer to see what’s prevalent there and make some determinations as to what strands they think will be prevalent here,” Propes said.

While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, Propes said those who receive the flu shot are better protected than those who do not receive it and are also more likely to experience less severe symptoms if they were to end up catching influenza.

“There are two types of vaccines right now: one covers three types of the flu and one covers four types of the flu,” Propes said. “The one that covers four (protects against) two types of A and two types of B, and the one that covers three (protects against) two types of A and one type of B.”

According to Propes, quadrivalent (covering four types) vaccines are more of a “broad spectrum” vaccination, while the trivalent (covering three types) is a high dose vaccine recommended for the elderly and immunocompromised patients.

Both the CDC and Miami County Health Department recommend that everyone six months and older receive a flu vaccine each year prior to the beginning of flu activity.

However, Propes noted that while flu is already active locally, those who have yet to receive a flu shot are still recommended to do so.

Propes also addressed the idea that the flu shot may cause someone who did not have the illness to contract it.

“The flu shot does not have live virus in it; you cannot get sick from the flu shot,” he said. “The shot is designed for your body to have an immunological response to kill that virus. Typically, you might feel a little off or have a little malaise, but that’s your body beginning that immunological response.”

Propes also added that those who feel they became ill after receiving the shot may have contracted another illness, like a cold, or may have come into contact with flu before the vaccine had time to take “full effect,” which can be a few days after receiving the vaccination.

According to the CDC, the time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days, but can range from about one to four days.

For those who do fall victim to flu, in most cases, the best plan of action is to stay home and avoid contact with others except to get medical care, if needed.

Otherwise healthy individuals infected with flu virus may recover within a few days by resting, hydrating and letting their body fight off the virus on its own, Propes said, but it’s important to stay vigilant.

“Trust yourself and listen to your body,” he said. “Your body is going to tell you when something doesn’t feel right. Everybody reacts differently, but if you’ve got that high fever that sticks around for a couple of days, it’s best to seek medical attention right away.”

Those considered “high risk” for flu complications are encouraged to seek medical attention as soon as they have flu-like symptoms in order to avoid complications.

High risk groups include adults 65 years and older; those with diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS, or cancer; pregnant women; young children; those with a history of heart disease or stroke; and children with neurologic conditions.

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

While there is no instant cure-all for flu, there are antiviral drugs that can be administered which may shorten the duration of the illness and make the symptoms milder.

According to the CDC, studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatments when they are started within two days of getting sick.

Starting them later can still be helpful, however, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from flu, including those hospitalized from the illness.

Along with the flu shot, the CDC recommends preventative actions, such as staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent hand-washing to help slow the spread of germs.

By Aimee Hancock

Miami Valley Today

Reach the writer at ahancock@aimmediamidwest.com. © 2020 Miami Valley Today, all rights reserved.