Influenza Di Freddo is believed to have been a term coined by residents of Florence, Italy in the 1300’s. Literally translated, it means “the cold influence”. It was used to describe the sudden increase in community illness that coincided with the decrease in air temperatures from summer to fall. As it turns out, there is a scientific explanation for the increase in flu virus infection and the cold, dry air of fall and winter. You see, the flu virus is transmitted through the air. When the air is hot and wet, the virus gets dragged to the ground by water droplets. When the air is cold and dry, the virus stay afloat longer, allowing all of us a better chance at breathing it in, and becoming sick.
Watch Paul D'Amore on Midday Maryland discuss the Flu, its symptoms, and how to prevent it.
Consistent with our fall weather changes, the flu wave has officially hit Maryland. Based upon the severity of the outbreak in Australia this year (where the seasons are opposite ours) health officials are warning that 2019 could be bad flu season.
Because the flu virus has the ability to quickly mutate, each season brings a potentially new strain. All strains are easily transmitted, and highly contagious. Over the course of human history, serious outbreaks have been responsible for significant global population destruction. In 1918, for example, the flu pandemic killed 1 out of every 30 people on the planet. Suffice to say, we should take the warnings of our health officials seriously when it comes to the flu.
Maryland Flu Reports
The Maryland Department of Health has already reported 162 confirmed cases of the flu virus in our state this season. According to their statewide FluWatch, at least 50 cases were confirmed in the last week alone. The majority of patients have been diagnosed with Type A (H3N2) strain; the same deadly strain that spread through Australia and the U.S. in 2017, and killed more than 79,000 people.
When examining current flu activity across the state through the week of October 26, these were the key findings:
- 2,787 patients visited primary care doctors for flu symptoms.
- 4,263 patients visited the emergency room with flu symptoms.
- 29 patients were hospitalized for flu-related complications.
- 1 patient was diagnosed with pneumonia from flu-related complications.
- 1 adult has died from flu complications.
Flu activity in Maryland is currently classified as ‘minimal’ and ‘sporadic’. However, it doesn’t take long for influenza to hit a community hard. Marylanders must use early preventive measures to protect their families from this highly contagious disease, as well as know the signs to catch it before it spreads.
What Do Flu Symptoms Look Like
Getting the flu is not similar to your average cold. Influenza can significantly impact a person’s ability to breath and fight off other illnesses. Especially those in high-risk groups such as children, elderly individuals, or people with compromised immune systems.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) many patients confuse the symptoms of the cold and the flu. This aids in the spread of the virus and leads people to continue going to work or school thinking they are just pushing through a minor bug.
These are the symptoms that can help you determine which illness you might be fighting and when it’s time to stay home:
- Sets on gradually.
- Rarely comes with a fever.
- Slight aches and pains.
- Chills uncommon.
- Sometimes feel weak or fatigued.
- Sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat are common.
- Mild to moderate chest discomfort and cough.
- Rarely comes with headaches.
- Will start abruptly.
- Typically comes with a fever.
- Aches and pains are common.
- Chills are fairly common.
- Usually makes you feel fatigued or weak.
- Sometimes comes with sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat.
- Chest discomfort and cough are common.
- Headaches are common.
Who Is Most At Risk
Most patients diagnosed with the flu will experience mild symptoms and will not have to seek medical care and additional treatments. Other patients considered high-risk are more prone to severe symptoms that result in hospitalizations, health complications, and flu-related fatalities.
These are the groups highlighted by the C.D.C. most at risk for serious complications from the flu:
- young children
- adults 65 and older
- diabetic patients
- pregnant women
- HIV/Aids patients
- individuals with asthma
- cancer patients
- children with neurologic conditions
- patients with heart disease or who had a stroke
How To Prevent The Flu
Influenza is highly contagious and can spread from one person to another up to 6 feet away. The flu virus spreads through droplets made from coughing, sneezing, talking, or touching other bodily fluids. When these droplets land on people or surfaces that other people touch, the flu can then make its way into the body through the mouth and nose.
Taking preventive steps to reduce your chances of getting the flu this season is the most effective way to protect your family. These are the most effective methods listed by the C.D.C. that Marylanders can use at home, school, or when in the community:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, not your sleeve. This way, you can throw away the tissue (and the germs) when you are done.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also provide protection.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when necessary.
- Try to avoid places where you know someone is sick.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces often. If cleaning up after kids, don’t forget to clean the toys.
If you have the flu, do your best to stop the spread by staying home. Taking a chance of spreading the virus to those around you could put high-risk patients in unnecessary danger of life-threatening complications. The C.D.C. recommends limiting your contact with others and stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, unless you need to seek further medical treatment.
Pros and Cons of The Flu Vaccine
Flu vaccines are a hot topic for debate every year: Do they work, do they not? Are they safe, are they not? The two sides rarely ever agree.
Whether you’re pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, getting the facts is important. We are NOT ADVOCATING either side. This article is meant to provide information from which individuals should make their own decisions about what is best for themselves and their families.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone is a good candidate for a flu shot. Always consult with your doctors before you get a vaccine, especially if you are in a high-risk group.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to get a flu shot, but you’re still undecided on whether to get it, you’re not alone. These are the pros and cons highlighted by Healthline that may help you decide what is most beneficial for you.
- Milder Symptoms: Patients who receive the flu vaccination may experience less severe symptoms if they get the flu.
- Prevention: The C.D.C. reports the flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent you from becoming sick with the flu in the first place.
- Lower Risk of Hospitalization: The flu can cause a number of health complications, including pneumonia, that can lead to someone needing hospitalization. With the flu vaccine reducing the risk of severe symptoms, the chance of hospitalizations and complications are also lowered.
- Reducing The Spread: The flu spreads quickly and without much effort. The more people in a community who get the flu shot, the less of chance for the virus to spread, multiply, and mutate into different strains.
- Allergic Reactions: Some people are allergic to the ingredients in flu vaccines; especially eggs. (the virus is grown in eggs, extracted, killed and used to make vaccines. Some of the egg protein, therefore, will make its way into the shot. If you have a severe egg allergy there are egg free shots available. Just ask your doctor.
- Flu-like symptoms: Some patients who get the flu vaccine experience side-effects mimicking the flu. This is an extremely unpleasant coincidence and can deter people from wanting to get it in the future. The virus used in the vaccine is dead. It can not give you the flu.
- Still getting the flu: Yes, it’s still possible to get the flu after you get your flu shot. In fact, the flu shot is rarely more than 60% effective over the course of an entire season.
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome: The influenza vaccine can trigger a VERY RARE condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
- Anti-Vaccine Movement: By now, you have heard about the large group of people who believe vaccines have a link to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The dead flu virus is not the concern. It is the preservative chemical thimerisol that this group believes to be a problem. While there is no scientific evidence linking the thimerisol to ASD, pediatric flu shots no longer contain thimerisol.
Remember, there is more than one type of flu vaccine. Pregnant women and young children do not receive the same type of shots as a healthy adult or a high-risk patient. Some patients may also benefit more from a spray than a shot. Consult with your doctor to see which type of flu vaccine is best for your health and which locations carry it in your area.
No one wants to get the flu. Make a plan with your family as to how you will prevent the virus from entering your home this season. For more information on flu prevention, here are some helpful resources:
- The C.D.C. Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report- Flu View
- The C.D.C. Influenza Updates
- Maryland Department of Health- General Flu Information
- MDH FluWatch
Stay safe and healthy this flu season Maryland!