The bad news: The flu has arrived
If you’re feeling feverish, your nose is stuffy, your body aches and your throat is sore, it’s not just you.
The flu season is underway, and according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s spreading fast.
Symptoms include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea.
According to the CDC’s weekly influenza report, high influenza activity levels are widespread across 14 states, including Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
“Widespread,” means outbreaks or increases of influenza and influenza like illnesses have been confirmed in at least half of the state’s regions.
“This is the time of year that influenza really gets rolling,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Jahre, infectious disease physician and senior vice president for medical and academic affairs at St. Luke Health Network.
“There’s one predominant strain, that’s influenza A, and it’s known as H1N1,” Jahre said. “That is the one that has been predominant around the country, and it’s certainly the one that we are seeing.”
Locally, we’ve already seen the effects of influenza season.
As of last week, there have been 72 confirmed cases of influenza in Carbon County, 445 cases in Lehigh County, 80 cases in Northampton County, 116 cases in Schuylkill County and 189 cases in Monroe County.
Most people who get flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.
There have been 6,435 laboratory-confirmed influenza reported in the state this season. There have been eight adult deaths due to flu-associated illnesses.
“Always remember this: whatever you see as far as official reports are concerned, it’s an underestimate, because during an active flu season, once people start coming in with similar symptoms, not everyone who has influenza is tested,” Jahre said.
“A lot of times, people are treated presumptively, particularly, once it becomes widespread.”
Get the shot
Some may think they don’t need the flu shot, especially if they don’t fall into the age categories typically most susceptible to the flu: children and the elderly.
Jahre said that’s far from true.
“A lot of those individuals have never had influenza before. They’re now caretakers for both their parents in some cases and their own children, and they tend to think, ‘Oh, I’ve never had it before, I really don’t need to do anything.’ And that’s a mistake,” Jahre said.
Last flu season was particularly severe, with 185 pediatric deaths and 30,453 laboratory-confirmed influenza-related hospitalizations. The 2017-18 flu season was classified as high severity across all age groups.
Dr. Luther Rhodes, chief of infection control at Lehigh Valley Health Network, said it’s too early to tell what the current season will bring.
But even though the influenza season is already a few months in, it’s not too late to protect yourself from the flu by getting vaccinated.
“This is too early in the season to say if it’s going to be the worst season ever, or the mildest season ever,” he said. “But what it is, is we’re finally now in the flu and respiritory virus season.
“That’s the message, and it’s really an important message for people that have been putting off getting vaccinated,” he added.
Megan Schultz, a pharmacist at Giant Food Store in Whitehall, said that getting a flu vaccine is easy, and quick, too. No appointment is required, and Schultz estimated the entire process takes around 15 minutes.
“The more people get the shot, the more herd immunity there is, so you help protect others by just getting the flu shot yourself,” Schultz said. “It’s the best way we can help protect the elderly and the young.”