If you’re one of those people who ignore the signs in the drugstore or your doctor’s advice to get a flu shot thinking you’re too young and healthy to get the flu, listen up. The influenza outbreak is widespread in almost every state, and this year’s strain doesn’t discriminate. But don’t worry, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A Fiercer Flu Season
Between October 1 and January 11, 3,745 lab-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported, according to the CDC. Right now, 62 percent of reported hospitalizations are people between the ages of 18 and 64.
That’s because the predominant flu strain going around is H1N1, which is notorious for spreading among demographics that are normally less susceptible (the very young and old are usually those hardest hit during flu season). It’s the same strain responsible for the 2009 pandemic, which has recirculated around the world every year since, but hasn’t been the predominant strain, says Seema Jain, M.D., a medical epidemiologist for the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch, Influenza Division at the CDC. Luckily, it’s also a strain the flu vaccine will protect against.
“We’re seeing a lot of illness in young and middle aged adults,” says Dr. Jain. “Often that demographic doesn’t get vaccinated as much as other groups.”
In fact, according to CDC estimates from mid-November, just 31 percent of people in that age group had gotten vaccinated. That’s 10 percent lower than overall national estimates. The CDC recommends anyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated, especially people who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, and women who are pregnant, as they are more likely to develop life-threatening complications from the flu.
While it’s not too late, Dr. Jain recommends getting vaccinated as soon as possible. And if you’re not sure where to get vaccinated, the HealthMap Vaccine Finder provides a thorough list of providers based on zip code or your current location.
Recognizing the Symptoms
If you’re experiencing fever, the chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue, or vomiting and diarrhea, you may have the flu. Symptoms usually come on suddenly. And while all these symptoms could instead be signs of a cold or another illness, it’s always best to consult with your doctor, and then determine next steps.
Stop the Spread
As is clear from the current outbreak, the flu is easy to pass along to others. Even something as seemingly harmless as taking aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain could spread the virus, according to a new study by researchers at McMaster University in Ohio. They found that certain OTC medications can increase the amount of flu virus shed, thus increasing exposure to others. The takeaway from this study is not to avoid these drugs if you get the flu, but to stay home to avoid passing the virus along to others.
The flu is not a virus you want to ignore, or worse yet, attempt sweating out at the gym. After calling your doctor, stay home and avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours, Dr. Jain recommends. Be sure to also ask if you need medication. Antivirals that are specific for influenza can be a second line of defense, Dr. Jain says.
“They can prevent complications, and getting quick treatment can be really important,” she says. “Not everybody needs them, but you need to call your doctor to find out.”
Originally published at dailyburn.com on January 23, 2014.