The flu season is in full swing and the number of positive flu diagnoses are increasing at a high rate. Prevention is more important than ever during this time of the year.
Colleen Duggan, nursing professor, said Johnson County saw a large increase in the number of flu diagnoses in the past few weeks. If a patient’s test result come back negative, they could still have the flu.
“What we’re finding in the Johnson County area is 90 percent of flu being diagnosed is Type A with just a few false negatives,” Duggan said. “In other words, a few patients might come in and test negative but they still most likely have the flu.”
The flu is often confused with the common cold due to the similarities between their symptoms. Karen LaMartina, director of nursing, said there are a few small differences to help determine whether someone has the flu or a cold.
“They’re both viruses, the flu virus is a much more virulent virus, it is much more serious and requires more attention than just a typical cold virus,” LaMartina said. “People tend to throw around the term flu loosely. When we talk about flu this time of the year, we are really talking about the actual virus, for which there is a vaccination and is respiratory.”
Muscle aches are typically associated with the flu and not the common cold. When muscle aches begin, the individual should contact or visit their healthcare provider as soon as they can to get a prescription for Tamiflu, an antiviral drug.
“When you start noticing symptoms, take your temperature,” Duggan said. “One of the key symptoms is the muscle aches. If you have signs and symptoms of what might appear to be a cold and also have muscle aches, that is usually a sign you may have the flu. That is when you should go see your doctor and get on Tamiflu.”
The flu vaccine is one way to prevent getting the flu. The virus used in the vaccine is inactive so it cannot cause the flu, however, individuals who get the flu shot can still contract the flu from a strain that is not protected by the vaccine.
“The flu vaccine does not cause the flu because the vaccine is not a live virus,” LaMartina said. “Can you get the flu even if you had a flu shot? Yes, because there are so many strains of that virus. The flu vaccine, while it is important to get it and it is good for prevention, it does not protect people from every flu virus out there.”
Those who have not gotten the flu vaccine yet are highly encouraged to still get it. This flu season is predicted last till April and the vaccine only takes two weeks to become effective. The vaccine may also lessen the severity of flu symptoms in an individual sick with the flu.
“We’re finding [flu vaccine] is about 30 percent effective, that is an approximation,” Duggan said. “We are recommending people still get the flu injection because even they come down with the flu, their symptoms may be less severe as long as the flu is the strain covered by the vaccine. We’re expecting the flu to go on for another 10 to 12 weeks at high numbers. There is still time to benefit from the injection.”
With the increasing amount of flu diagnoses, the 2017-2018 flu season is more severe than previous flu seasons. The flu virus mutates often and the mutation contributes to why certain strains of the flu don’t respond to the vaccine.
“The flu virus mutates and it can change within weeks to months,” Duggan said. “The flu vaccine is made earlier, six months to a year, before it is given to people. That point in time, they’re targeting what strain is likely to still be active six months later. Even in that six month period, that strain can mutate so it does not respond as well.”
Another effective way to prevent the flu is hand washing and sanitizing shared surfaces. The flu virus can live on surfaces and inanimate objects for approximately 24 hours. LaMartina said she recommends singing a song like the alphabet while hand washing instead of a quick rinse under the faucet.
“Hand washing with warm water and soap is our best defense,” LaMartina said. “Wipe down surfaces because the flu virus can live up to 24 hours on surfaces. Wipe down counters, phones, keyboards and especially anything that is a shared surface. Stay away from other people when you are sick.”
More information on treatment, prevention, and the flu vaccine may be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.