Mar 9, 2018
So far, the 2017-2018 flu season has been a nasty one. Like much of the country, Texas has been hard hit. At last count, 4,159 adults and six children have died of complication due to flu-related complications (including pneumonia) in the Lone Star State. In Dallas-Fort Worth alone, 110 deaths have been reported. “And the flu season is a long way from over,” says Eseosa Eguae, MD, a family medicine physician at USMD South Arlington Family Medicine Clinic. “It doesn’t officially end until May.”
Why is this flu season so bad?
More people than ever have been vaccinated, so why are entire Texas schools shutting down and a record number of people being hospitalized due to flu?
“The World Health Organization does its best each year to forecast which strains they think will be the most prevalent,” Dr. Eguae explains. “Generally, they’ll include two strains for Flu A and Flu B in each vaccination. But this year, we’re seeing a lot more of the H3N2 virus which tends to mutate pretty rapidly. That factors into why this flu season seems to be worse.”
The latest report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the flu vaccine’s effectiveness against H3N2—the most commonly circulating strain of flu this season—is about 25 percent. In a good year, the flu vaccine’s effectiveness ranges from 50 to 70 percent. But in years when the H3N2 virus circulates like this year, the vaccine is far less protective.
So how can you protect yourself?
Get the flu vaccine. “Believe it or not, it’s still not too late to get a flu shot if you haven’t had one,” says Dr. Eguae. “The vaccine is still your best defense as the flu virus continues to circulate until the end of May. Don’t wait. The vaccination doesn’t work right away. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up antibodies—the defense mechanism in your immune system.”
Wash your hands with soap and water. “Studies have shown that hand sanitizer isn’t nearly as effective as washing your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water,” Dr. Eguae explains. “Hand sanitizer is only effective against certain types of bacteria—and not very many of them. If you don’t have access to soap and water, then use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Contain your cough. You can’t always suppress a cough, but you can help prevent the spread of germs by coughing into the sleeve of your shirt or a handkerchief. Teach your kids this technique, too.
Keep your hands away from your face. Flu germs enter your body through your eyes, nose and mouth, so avoid rubbing your hands on our face.
Disinfect, disinfect, disinfect. Disinfecting wipes and sprays that contain alcohol go a long way in killing illness-causing bacteria and viruses that lurk on common surfaces that everyone touches. Be diligent about wiping down your kitchen and bathroom surfaces, doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, anything that is touched by a lot of people.
When should you see a doctor?
Most people who contract the flu recover within a matter of three to five days with rest at home and plenty of fluids. But some individuals—particularly young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions that compromise their immune or respiratory systems—have a higher risk for serious, and sometimes deadly complications. “These individuals should seek immediate medical attention when they first notice flu-like symptoms,” Dr. Eguae warns.
For relatively healthy individuals, the CDC recommends seeing a doctor if you experience:
For infants and young children, seek medical help right away if you notice they are:
A rapid flu test (a quick swab of the nasal passage) can identify the presence of Flu A or Flu B, and then determine if Tamiflu is a appropriate. “Tamiflu is most often given to high-risk patients to reduce the severity of symptoms and lessen the duration of the flu,” says Dr. Eguae.
If you do come down with the flu…
“Get plenty of rest to help your body mount its own defense mechanisms to fight off the virus,” says Dr. Eguae. “Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water, Gatorade or Pedialyte. Change your tooth brush or disinfect it to prevent re-infecting yourself with flu germs.”
Most importantly, don’t go to work or school when you’re sick. “Rest at home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours to ensure you are no longer contagious,” Dr. Eguae advises. “Otherwise, you could expose others to the flu.”
Whether you are worried about the flu or have another health concern, Dr. Eguae and the caring family medicine physicians at USMD Health System are here for you and your whole family. To schedule and appointment with Dr. Eguae, please call 817.807.9060.