Flu can have life-threatening complications

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Jan. 9, 2018 at 5:42 p.m.
Updated Jan. 10, 2018 at 6 a.m.

It's that sniffling, sneezing, achy time of year when it feels like half of the office is out sick.

Yep. We're talking about flu season, which is typically between October and May.

Influenza is a respiratory virus that is spread from person to person, and when you get it, it's just the worst. Catching the flu is so disruptive to your work week, home life and even your mental health.

Dr. Thomas Boyce, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Mayo Clinic, said it looks like this is going to be a particularly severe year for influenza. The predominant strain circulating is H3N2, which is considered to be the nastiest - responsible for more hospitalizations and more deaths than all other causes of seasonal influenza.

Each year, about 40,000 people in the U.S. die from influenza, some of whom were completely healthy before getting sick, Boyce said. This is a terrifying statistic. But before you head to Sam's Club to stock up on a jumbo-sized can of disinfectant, think about whether you have gotten the flu shot this year.

The vaccine not only protects you but also those who are around you. Now, this flu shot does not totally prevent you from getting the flu, but it certainly can help ward against contracting the virus. And if you do end up getting the flu, you will have a shorter duration of illness and your symptoms will likely be less severe.

"It may only be 10 to 30 percent effective in preventing an influenza illness, but it's much more effective than that in preventing hospitalization and death, which are really the most important outcomes of influenza that we want to prevent," Boyce said.

Kyle McCauley, epidemiologist with the Victoria County Public Health Department, said he doesn't yet know whether this year's flu season will be any worse than we've seen in recent years. Still, he advocates for flu prevention and treatment because if left alone, the flu could have life-threatening complications.

Elderly, young, pregnant or immunocompromised people are at greater risk of complications, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends if you have symptoms of flu and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick and worried about your illness, you should contact your health care provider.

If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick, there's a very real chance that you'll get sick from the people who have it. Again, if you have mild signs of the flu, do not go to the ER. Call your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication.

The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities.

What's important to note, and this was included in the health department's most recent column, is that you can catch the flu from an infected person who doesn't yet feel sick or says they already feel better.

Mainly, the flu is spread by droplets that are generated when people cough, sneeze or talk. The flu can also be spread if a person touches a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose without washing their hands. So about that jumbo-sized can of disinfectant, maybe you should grab a few cans.

Call your doctor, head over to any of the major pharmacies or clinics and just get that darn flu shot. Most health insurers completely cover the shot, but if you don't have insurance, you can still head down to the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center with 25 bucks in hand.

But whatever you do, if you do come down with the flu this season, please don't go in to work, and if you need groceries, maybe try out H-E-B Curbside. Please stay home and get better soon.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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