This is one of the worst flu seasons that we have seen in many, many years. This flu season has had an earlier start than usual and unfortunately we are now experiencing a widespread and severe flu epidemic. While in the past the flu generally hit those at higher risk harder- seniors, small children, immunocompromised individuals, this year even healthy individuals are being severely effected. The current data shown by the CDC indicates that there has been a significantly rapid increase in the numbers of people going to see their health care providers and accessing ER treatment for the flu. The flu this year has sadly caused more deaths so far than usually reported.
This season, the predominant strain is H3N2, which is one of the worst types. Seasons in which the H3N2 strain dominates are generally associated with more severe symptoms, illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Daniel Jernigan, an expert with the CDC stated: “Of the viruses we hate, we hate H3N2 more than the other ones. This strain, which has been around for 50 years, is able to change more quickly to get around the human body’s immune system than the other viruses targeted in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine." So with this being such a difficult season for the flu what can we do to protect ourselves?
The best start in terms of prevention for the flu is truly the flu shot, however that does not guarantee a flu free season! The vaccine has been found to be about 60 percent effective and this can vary from year to year. Frequent hand washing is always the next best prevention for cold and flu! Wash your hands throughly and frequently with soap and water. Ensure that you scrub well and get between all fingers and thumbs and on both sides of your hands. Wash your hands for at least a minute or sing happy birthday twice to yourself while washing to stay on track. Next avoid crowds and exposure to people who are obviously ill! Isolate those to a separate room if ill within your household and always keep toothbrushes, towels and personal care items separate. Never share food or drink with others. Ensure that you stay clean! Launder sheets and towels often, every 2 days in hot water. Bathe daily to ensure that you get all germs off of your body, especially after being out and about. Never rewear clothing; wear items once and then send them to the wash or dry cleaners. Keep frequently used items in your home clean such as remotes, telephones, door knobs, railings, and light switches. Wipe off every few days with an antibacterial cleaner or spray with lysol. Try to reduce contamination by taking trash out often and keeping all cans in the home with disposable liners or bags. Finally, when out and about, avoid touching unnecessary things, carry and use hand sanitizer if using pens in a physicians office, touching shopping carts, credit card or ATM key pads, etc.
Prevention is key to avoiding all cold and flu. Take some simple steps to protect yourself and you will have an uneventful and healthy season!