Flu Season Expected To Reach Peak Within Next Two Weeks
By Katrina Fuller
The influenza virus is never fun, but this year it is particularly harmful, according to UPMC Chautauqua WCA officials.
Dr. Todd Jacobson, Occupational Health Services director, said the peak is coming in the next few weeks and urged the public to focus on prevention. Jacobson said the flu virus is showing no signs of slowing down, and this year’s strain is “more deadly and more severe.” The H3N2 Influenza A strain is the virus that is wreaking havoc across the nation.
According to a New York Department of Health report from last year, during the week ending on Jan. 21, there were 4,350 laboratory-confirmed reports of influenza. This year, the department reports that during the week ending on Jan. 20, there are 7,779 confirmed reports
Last week, all 62 counties in the state reported cases of the flu.
Jacobson said it is especially important to be careful with those in the population who are most susceptible: children who are younger than two years old and adults who are older than 65. Also, those who have chronic illnesses have an increased risk.
Symptoms of the flu include severe muscle aches, fatigue, cough, weakness, chills and cough. Jacobson said once someone is exposed to the virus, they will usually come down with it within two days. After a week, the person will most likely not be infectious anymore.
“There isn’t a lot we can do once you get it,” Jacobson said. “The best bet is to try to prevent it.”
This includes getting a flu shot, Jacobson said. While the vaccine is less than 30 percent effective, he said if a person who has had the flu shot gets the flu, they will have a lesser case. The vaccination protects not only the person who gets it, but those around them as well. Jacobson said the shot can be given to individuals who are six months old and older.
Jacobson said he also recommends washing and sanitizing ones hands often, especially before touching their eyes, nose or mouth or before eating. Cleaning surfaces with disinfectant wipes is also recommended, and using procedure masks that loop over the ears and cover one’s nose and mouth can also be helpful. Jacobson said those who have influenza should use a mask to protect others.
However, if a person gets the flu, Jacobson recommends going to the doctor right away. There is medication available to help lessen the length of the illness. One such medication is called Tamiflu, which is often used. However, Jacobson said the medication will not cure the disease right away, but will lessen the impact.
Those who have the flu can use Tylenol to lower the fever, and must make sure they keep up their hydration and nutrition, he added. Most importantly, those who come down with the flu should stay home from school, work or other public activities.
Jacobson said the flu is widespread in New York state, but is less severe than the outbreak in the west.
“But we’re worried that it might come this way,” Jacobson said.
The Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services also suggests that everyone over six months old get vaccinated. Vaccinations are available at primary care doctor’s offices, local pharmacies or the county’s public health clinics.
“Influenza vaccination remains the first line of defense against the influenza illness,” said Christine Schuyler, department director. “While vaccination offers the best protection we have against influenza, it’s still possible that some people may become ill despite being vaccinated but their illness will be much milder. Influenza antiviral medications are a second line of defense against influenza but their use this flu season is more important than usual because of the circulating H3N2 strain.”
The department urges the public to wash their hands frequently, sneeze and cough into the crook of an elbow and not in one’s hands and also to throw tissues into the garbage after use to reduce the chance of catching or spreading the flu.
For more information on the flu or the flu shot, visit www.cdc.gov, or contact the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Division at 1-866-604-6789.
On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to combat the flu epidemic in New York. The order allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18. According to the Governor’s Office, 7,779 confirmed cases of influenza were reported to the state over the past week. Likewise, 1,759 New Yorkers have been hospitalized with confirmed influenza, which are the highest numbers since reporting began in 2004.
“With flu cases reaching epidemic proportions in New York, we must do everything in our power to fight this virus and keep New Yorkers safe,” Cuomo said. “Once again, I urge all New Yorkers to help us combat this quick-spreading strain of flu and make sure they and their loved ones are vaccinated.”
Cuomo has also directed the state Department of Health to expand the public service advertising campaign on influenza to target the areas of the state hardest hit by influenza.
To find a flu vaccine provider nearby, visit www.vaccinefinder.org.