Staying Healthy During the Worst Flu Season in Years

By Catherine C. Grant, MSPAS, PA-C

Flu season is here yet again and with one of the worst outbreaks Georgia has seen in years.

How bad is it?

Here’s a Google Map that estimates how bad the flu season is across the country based upon aggregated Google search data. Notice that Georgia is a red state which means the flu level is described as widespread.
2014-12-31 12_56_30-Google Flu Trends _ United States

What is the seasonal flu?

Most people are familiar with “the flu” as it is estimated that in a given year 5-20% of the population contracts the flu. If you have never had it personally, most of us know someone who has suffered with influenza. The seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses, however it is different from a cold. Symptoms of the flu typically begin suddenly and include fever/chills, cough, sore throat, stuffy/runny nose, muscle and body aches, headache and fatigue (tiredness). The virus does not affect all people in the same way and some people may experience only a few symptoms to a lesser degree while others may experience more. While the flu most certainly makes you feel miserable, it can also cause mild to severe complications and in rare cases even lead to death.

Complications from the seasonal flu can range from bronchitis, ear and sinus infections, pneumonia, and exacerbation of chronic health conditions, such as asthma and congestive heart failure. More than 200,000 people are admitted to the hospital for flu-related complications every year. Everyone is susceptible to the flu but some groups are more likely to experience complications related to the flu including:

  • Seniors (those age 65 and older)
  • Children (especially those younger than 2)
  • People with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease
  • Pregnant women

Guarding against the flu does take planning and diligence considering how easily it is spread. You can get the flu when a person coughs, sneezes, or even just talks in close proximity to you. This may cause their germs transfer to your mouth or nose. People with the flu can spread it to others up to 6 feet away! It is also possible to contract the flu simply by coming into contact with a surface or object that has the flu virus on it then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. This is why frequent hand-washing is so important, especially during flu season, as well as staying home when you are sick!

Most people who get the flu feel much better within a week to 10 days, assuming there are no complications. Treatment with Tamiflu within the first 48 hours of symptom onset can significantly reduce the duration and severity of illness. Most adults are able to infect others from one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after the coughing, muscle aches and fever appear. This means you may be contagious and able to transmit the virus even before you feel sick and after you begin feeling better. Some people, especially young children and those with weakened immune systems, can be able to transmit the virus longer.

How can I protect myself and family from the flu?

While there are many things you can do to protect yourself from the flu, the best protection against seasonal flu is getting an annual flu vaccine. Flu viruses constantly evolve or mutate so it is normal for new flu viruses to show up each year. Flu vaccines are tailored specifically to the certain viruses that are projected to appear that season. This is why we always recommend to our patients to get a flu vaccination every year.

Some people have a common misconception that if they haven’t had a flu vaccine by the start of winter it’s too late. Here in Georgia and metropolitan areas, like Savannah, we see the flu season typically start as late as December and lasting all the way until May.

– Avoid close contact with people who have the flu.

– Stay home when you are sick.

– Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

– Wash your hands often & use hand-sanitizer.

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

– Clean & disinfect surfaces at home, work or school.

Should I get a seasonal flu vaccine?

seasonal flu vaccines
Yes, we recommend getting a seasonal flu vaccination every year. Even if the flu vaccine isn’t a perfect match for all strains during a particular year, there are still benefits to getting the vaccine including decreased likelihood of contracting the virus and if you do contract it, decreased severity and duration of illness, decreasing the likelihood of developing complications. In terms of preventing the flu, some of the benefits according to the CDC include:
  • Flu vaccinations can keep you from getting sick from the seasonal flu or make the flu milder if you do get sick.
  • Flu vaccinations can protect people who are at greater risk of flu complications, like those with chronic health conditions and young children. They can also reduce hospitalizations from flu complications.
  • Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.

Are flu vaccinations safe?

Despite popular opinion, flu vaccines have a very good safety record. Both the CDC and FDA monitor the manufacturing of the seasonal flu vaccines. The CDC uses multiple safety checks to monitor and rapidly identify any adverse effects. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccinations over the years preventing millions of potential complications of the flu virus. As with any medication, there is potential for side effects. Thankfully the most common are only minor and include tenderness, soreness or redness where the flu shot was given.

If you have any concerns with getting vaccinated we encourage you to call or visit us so we can answer your questions. We want our patients to feel informed and as confident as we are about the importance of flu vaccinations.

Should I get a flu vaccine at an Urgent Care Center, my regular doctor or a hospital?

We just want you to be protected, so choose the most convenient place to get your flu shot! When you choose The Urgent Care Center of Richmond Hill you’ll save yourself both money and avoid the wait times that often associated with making an appointment. Emergency departments are designed to best care for emergencies and are not the ideal place for routine and preventative medical care. It’s also important to remember that most health insurance plans won’t cover the cost of any non-emergency ER visits. At The Urgent Care Center of Richmond Hill, you never need an appointment, walk-ins are always welcome, we are in-network with major insurance companies and you can rest assured you will always get the best quality medical care and customer service.
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Be Prepared

In Savannah, Richmond Hill, and surrounding areas the outbreak is considered widespread right now and flu activity level is “High”. The seasonal flu is a very contagious illness. While annual flu vaccine is still the best protection to keep you and your loved ones safe from this year’s outbreak, if you do develop symptoms, come in early for a flu test as the sooner treatment is initiated, the more effective it typically will be. We are open 7 days a week at 8am and open extended hours because we know that illness never seems to come when it is “convenient”. You never need an appointment at The Urgent Care Center of Richmond Hill as walk in’s are always welcome. We invite you to visit our website www.WeAreUrgentCare.com to learn more about our excellent facility. Wishing you and yours a healthy flu season!