Flu season to be one of worst in years
By Tamara Young and Perris Njenga - Staff Reporters
Highline professor Dr. Colleen Sheridan was going to tell people about the flu at last week's Science Seminar.
And then she got the flu herself.
Dr. Sheridan, who teaches biology, is not alone. Many Highline students, faculty and staff have come down with the flu in recent weeks, missing work and class, as a particularly nasty strain of the flue has swept the country.
"This is a bad flu season," Dr. Sheridan said.
The strain of the flu that is predominant this season is the H3N2, which tends to be a more severe strain of the flu than any other flu, said Dr. Hilary Karasz of King County Public Health Department.
Kristen Nordlund, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control, said this year's flu season has produced 34 million flu illnesses, more than 1 million flu related doctor visits and as many as 710,000 hospitalizations.
In King County there have been 14 reported deaths from the flu this year, but this is most likely underreported due to the fact that the flu is not usually listed as the cause of death, Dr. Karasz said. What are in effect deaths from flu may come from complications such as pneumonia or an exacerbation of an existing medical condition, she said.
People who are at greatest risk of complications or hospitizations from the flu are those who have asthma, are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, or have chronic kidney disease, according to the CDC.
More hospitalizations and deaths tend to fall into two groups of people, those over the age of 65 years and young children, Nordlund said.
There have been 109 confirmed influenza deaths reported in Washington state, according to the state Department of Health. Most victims were elderly, with the exception of one child younger than 4.
Nationwide, 37 children have died from the flu during this season, it is likely there will be more in the weeks to come. Dan Jernigan, the director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a conference that the flu season hasn't peaked yet.
"We've experienced two notable characteristics of flu this season. The first is that flu activity became widespread within almost all states and jurisdictions at the same time," he said.
"The second is that flu activity has now stayed at the same level for three weeks in a row, with 49 states reporting widespread activity, each week, for three weeks. We often see different parts of the country 'light up' at different times, but for the past three weeks, the entire country has been experiencing lots of flu, all at the same time," Jernigan said.
Latest reports say that all states except Hawaii are continuing to report widespread flu activity.
"In week No.1, deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza had a major increase to 9.1 percent," according to the Centers of Disease Control.
The CDC has said that this year's flu outbreak is on track for being the worst on record since the swine flu in 2009, and continues to worsen.
The flu is spread in two ways. One is by droplet transmission through a cough or sneeze, the other way is by indirect transmission which means by touching a surface that has the virus on it, Dr. Sheridan said.
It may be difficult to distinguish the common cold from the flu since the symptoms can be similar, Nordlund said.
But generally, the common cold is a milder illness, often develops over a few days, more likely to have a stuffy or runny nose and generally does not result in serious health problems.
The common symptoms of the flu are that sickness comes on abruptly, may have a fever that lasts 3-4 days, body aches, chills, fatigue, headache and discomfort when coughing.
A person should seek medical attention if their breathing becomes difficult, their skin turns bluish, dehydration, a fever with a rash, or become difficult to wake up according to the CDC.
The best way to protect yourself is to get the flu shot. It may not be 100 percent effective but it will protect up to 30-40 percent of people, Karasz PhD said.
Seattle Children's Senior Communications Specialist Stacey Ulacia said, it is not too late to get the vaccine for you or your family. People can receive the vaccine up till May and be protected from the flu.
Either call your doctor or your local pharmacy and schedule a flu shot appointment today, Ulcacia said.
"If you are sick and certainly, if you have underlying conditions, be sure to talk with your doctor about anti-viral drugs," Dr. Sheridan said.
Other ways to prevent risk are to avoid close contact with sick people or if you are sick, cover your nose and mouth with tissue when coughing or sneezing, wash your hands often or use alcohol based hand rub, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and clean your surfaces or objects that may be contaminated.
Other things that people can do to protect themselves and others from the flu is to stay home when you are sick, if you have a fever wait at least 24 hours after the fever is gone to return to school, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough with a tissue, Nordland said.
When washing your hands take at least 20 seconds and scrub with soap and water according to the CDC.
"We don't know if it will be a high severity season or not, but all the more reason to take those precautions we talked about," Highline's Dr. Sheridan said.