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Flu Season — Everything You Need to Know

Flu Season — Everything You Need to Know

Flu season has arrived in the United States and, with it, the perennial angst about what or what not to do, and whether or not to get a flu vaccine. Many people get particularly curious about how to approach flu season this year, as another notorious virus is still very much in our midst.

At Hudson Medical + Wellness, we are devoted to helping our patients access the most accurate and up-to-date medical information to make the best decisions for themselves about their health. Here’s what you need to know about flu season and how to prepare.

What is the flu?

Do you remember the days when your biggest infectious disease-related worry was about getting the flu over the holidays? They may seem very much in the rear-view mirror now, but these concerns were well-founded, as the flu virus (formally known as influenza) is a formidable public health enemy that causes significant disease, hospitalizations, and deaths every year.

How severe is the flu?

Influenza, or the flu, can come on very suddenly, with symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, nasal congestion or runny nose, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, and profound tiredness. Certain flu strains also carry a higher likelihood of causing symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

Usually, people have just a few of these more predominant symptoms, and they recover with a few days or a couple of weeks. However, secondary infections (like bacterial pneumonia or sepsis) can also occur. Less commonly, the flu can cause multi-organ failure, brain inflammation, heart inflammation, or muscle tissue conditions. While anyone can experience a complication from the flu, they are far more likely in people with chronic illnesses, suppressed immune systems, or at the ends of the age spectrum (the very young or very old).

What are the treatments for the flu?

For many people with healthy immune systems, the flu feels miserable. Symptoms can be helped with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen and lots of hydration, but the immune system is typically capable of recovering well on its own, without flu-specific medications.

However, there are antiviral medications available, such as Tamiflu (Oseltamivir), that may help reduce the severity and duration of an influenza illness if taken shortly after the onset of flu symptoms. These medications may be helpful for people who are more vulnerable to the flu, or at risk of more severe illness. If you or a loved one is suspected to have the flu and is feeling severely ill—with a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, decreased urination, high fever, or otherwise—make sure to visit your medical provider immediately, or call 911.

How can the flu be prevented?

Luckily, the flu is highly preventable, and we are all essentially experts at flu prevention, having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid contracting a respiratory virus like the flu, avoid close contact with people who are sick, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often, avoiding touching your face, clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated, wear masks when in crowded places, and get a flu shot.

What’s in a flu shot?

Many different flu shots are available this year, however, the ones that were released in the biggest quantity by the FDA are quadrivalent flu shots, which means that they contain four different strains of the influenza virus. Each year, the FDA tracks worldwide influenza activity and attempts to predict which ones will be most predominant in the US by the time our flu season rolls around six months later. This year, two Influenza A strains and two Influenza B strains were selected to be incorporated into the quadrivalent flu shot.

Here are the formal names of our number one enemies this flu season:

  • influenza A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
  • influenza A/Cambodia/e0826360/2020 (H3N2)-like virus
  • influenza B/Washington/02/2019- like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
  • influenza B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)

When you get a flu shot, your immune system will get a chance to try out its defense tactics on the inactivated (killed) forms of these four viruses. Think of a boxer practicing for a match by hitting a punching bag. When your immune system encounters one of these influenza viruses in the wild, it will already know its opponent’s weaknesses, and it will have a much higher chance of knocking its lights out before you’re even aware of what’s going on.

How effective is the flu shot?

While the flu shot is a great public health measure (and you should consider getting it if you want to keep yourself and those around you as comfortable as possible this winter) there may be other significant influenza viruses that circulate this season that aren’t included in the vaccine. This is one of the reasons why flu vaccines are notoriously variable when it comes to how well they work. Some years, scientists are a bit off in their estimation of which strains will be dominant in the US population, and the vaccine’s efficacy may be in the 40 percent range (way lower than any of the vaccines marketed against COVID-19). However, this year, the flu vaccine that was ordered in the biggest quantity, Afluria, appears to have a 60 percent effectiveness rating against lab-detected influenza infection.

How will COVID-19 affect this year’s flu season?

Last flu season (the 2020/2021 season), COVID-19 greatly suppressed our country’s rates of influenza. Both viruses are respiratory illnesses, so all of the precautionary measures that we were taking to help us prevent COVID-19 illness (like hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and general hermiting) also helped protect us from influenza. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association notes that during typical flu seasons, 75 to 150 children in the US die of influenza, but last flu season only one child died.

Some medical experts have predicted that this year, people will be engaging in fewer measures that are protective against respiratory illnesses—because they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, or because their vigilance is wearing off—and we might see higher rates of influenza. Flu illnesses may also be more prevalent because our herd immunity from the flu has been wearing down.

Finding post-COVID-19 or post-flu treatments at Hudson Medical + Wellness

At Hudson Medical + Wellness, we take health seriously, and this includes the prevention of infectious disease. If you are concerned about getting the flu, particularly during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are here to help. You may benefits from an immunity-boosting Vitamin IV at one of our locations.

To learn more, schedule a consultation today.

References:

https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/lot-release/influenza-vaccine-2021-2022-season
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2783644
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm

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