The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that this year’s flu season is quickly becoming deadly with weeks and even months left to go, as its alarmingly claimed more lives than usual for people under age 65.
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the influenza viruses that affect the nose, throat, and lungs, according to the CDC. Though cases can range from mild to serious, the latter can result in hospitalization, or potentially even death. The flu’s symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny and/or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s important to take note that it’s possible to have the flu and only suffer from a combination of these symptoms. If you’re missing a couple, that doesn’t mean your sickness isn’t the flu.
This particular flu season is so troubling because of the specific demographic that’s falling ill. While most would expect the flu to affect senior and children the most, it’s actually affecting the demographic least likely to get vaccinated. So far, more than 60% of those hospitalized were between the ages of 18 and 64, according to a CDC report published on February 20, 2014 in that week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Most shocking is that the majority of flu deaths were persons between ages 25 to 65.
This is a dramatic change from previous flu seasons where adults under 65 only made up between 34-35% of those affected seriously enough to be hospitalized. This flu season though, there have been 50 pediatric flu-related deaths that have been reported, according to the MMWR. While adult flu deaths aren’t reported on a national basis, the CDC estimates that a terrifying 3,000 and 49,000 people actually die each year because of flu-related illnesses.
This leads many to wonder what can be done about it. Most experts believe that the flu spreads mainly through the droplets victims make when they cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets land in the mouths or noses of nearby people, who then become sick in turn. Another possible scenario, though less likely, is that by touching a surface or object that the flu virus is on and then proceeding to touch their own mouth or nose, they transfer the flu to themselves.
The CDC urges everyone to get their flu shot, which they claim is the most effective method of prevention. These vaccines are also provided free as part of the preventive services portion of any one health insurance plan that’s currently on the marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. In addition to this vaccine, washing hands frequently and staying home when not sick can help prevent the flu. It’s also wise to carry anti-microbial agents, like hydrogen peroxide, when on the go. Doctors also recommend that people use antivirals within the first two days of feeling flu-like symptoms.
“Influenza can make anyone very sick, very fast and it can kill,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, warned. “Vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself.”