You’ve heard it for months: Across the United States, we’re experiencing an especially bad flu season. As of February 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 states, including Nevada, are experiencing widespread influenza activity. “Widespread,” the highest epidemiological category offered in the report, is defined as flu and/or flu-like illnesses found in at least half of the state’s regions. Nevada has had this classification since December 24. Because flu season typically peaks between December and February, we may begin to see some relief in March, but flu activity can extend through May and in some cases, influenza viruses can be detected year-round. For people who have not yet contracted the flu this season, it’s not too late to get the vaccine and decrease your chances of falling ill.
Who is most at risk?
The elderly, young children and people with chronic conditions have the highest risk for developing a serious, flu-related complication, but the flu can be fatal for otherwise healthy adults as well. This year, the hospitalization rate is highest for people 65 and older, with an approximated 322.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, followed by ages 50-64 (79.9:100,000) and then children age 4 and younger (52.6:100,000).
Flu in the U.S., by the numbers
The CDC estimates that the flu has resulted in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations annually since 2010. This flu season, there have been 21,279 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations from October 1 to February 17 in the U.S., but it’s likely the final estimates will be much higher. Real-time data during an active flu season typically does not represent the entire spectrum of flu-related complications and subsequent illnesses.
The flu isn’t just a common cold gone bad—it’s a highly contagious respiratory virus that, in its worst instances, can lead to hospitalization and death. Manufacturers projected that more than 150 million doses of the flu vaccine would be available for this year’s flu season. But a flu vaccine doesn’t mean you won’t catch the flu; it’s just the best line of defense. That’s because the flu virus is constantly changing and mutating over time. The CDC studies the virus to determine which vaccines will work best in protecting against the flu.
• Can you get sick from a flu shot? No. The flu shot is either deactivated, meaning it’s only composed of “pieces” of the virus, or its recombinant, meaning there is no flu virus present at all. This non-live immunization means you can’t get sick from it, but it might help your body recognize the virus and fight it more effectively. The nasal spray flu vaccine, however, is a live vaccine, and is not recommended for this year’s flu season.
• Why do you need the shot every year? Once you receive the shot, it takes about two weeks to become effective and will probably remain so for about a year.
The different influenza viruses that cause the flu are constantly changing and evolving—and the vaccination is adapted every year to account for these variations. Further, the body’s immune response to vaccinations declines over time, so even if you were once vaccinated for one influenza strain, you might not be protected against it anymore.
• What about egg allergies? As of the 2016-17 flu season, the CDC recommends those with egg allergies still get the shot. People with severe egg allergies should still be supervised.
Unlike the common cold ...
Flu symptoms are sudden, not gradual. If you’ve experienced severe onset of the below symptoms, ask your doctor for a rapid flu test to determine if you have the virus:
Did you know?
Someone with the flu may not always experience a fever. A severe case of the flu may also develop life-threatening complications, such as bacterial pneumonia.
• Fever or chills
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
• (In some cases) vomiting and diarrhea
Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu may be prescribed to treat influenza, but the CDC still encourages the flu shot to prevent the flu. Even if you don’t get sick from the flu, a flu shot will help prevent you from passing on the virus to others, including elderly people and children, many of whom have weaker immune systems. Antiviral drugs work best when taken within two days of being infected with the virus.
So far in Clark County (Oct. 1-Feb. 8)
• Ages 0-4, 1 death, 38 hospitalizations
• Ages 5-17, 2 deaths, 26 hospitalizations
• Ages 18-24, 1 death, 24 hospitalizations
• Ages 25-49, 1 death, 96 hospitalizations
• Ages 50-64, 6 deaths, 151 hospitalizations
• Ages 65+, 14 deaths, 479 hospitalizations