The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the current flu season is unusually severe. Forty-six states have reported more cases than usual, making it the first time in 13 years that the entire continental United States has been affected. As of the middle of last December, 106 people had died from the flu. Similarly, many states are reporting more people than usual being hospitalized for the flu. A majority of the patients are adults over 50 and children under 5.
In the US, flu season runs from October to May, with most people getting sick in winter. Public health officials closely monitor the situation in Australia to help forecast the severity of a given flu season. Our summer months are Australia’s winter months – and Australia set a record in its high number of flu cases last year.
This year, there are two types of flu making the rounds. The more prevalent type, influenza A subtype H3N2, causes unusually severe symptoms including aches and fever. The other flu is an influenza B virus subtype.
There was more bad news from Australia: The flu vaccine was effective only about 10 percent of the time. In most years, flu vaccines work about 40 to 60 percent of the time. Authorities still recommend getting the vaccine. Even if it doesn’t keep you from getting sick altogether, it can reduce the severity of the symptoms, and it can also help you recover faster. It’s especially important for children and older adults to get vaccinated, for they are the most vulnerable to the flu.
When should somebody go to the doctor? The answers vary somewhat depending on the patient’s age, but experts agree that everybody should see a doctor if they have symptoms that seem to get better at first – and then come back with a more severe cough and fever. Similarly, anybody who is having problems breathing should get immediate medical help.
Adults should get medical help if they have any of the following symptoms:
• Pain or pressure in the abdomen or chest
• Sudden dizziness
• Persistent or severe vomiting
Children should be taken to the ER if they have any of the following symptoms:
• Fever with a rash
• Not waking up or reacting
• Extreme irritability
• Bluish skin
• Not drinking enough liquids
Babies should be taken to the ER if they have any of the following symptoms:
• Inability to eat
• Does not shed tears when crying
• Produces significantly fewer wet diapers than usual