It’s true: this is a really, really bad flu season. Forty-seven states are currently experiencing widespread flu epidemics. So we asked AAP fellow (and MD Moms co-founder) Dr. JJ Levenstein to get us up to speed on the strains, the symptoms, the spread—and how to survive.
StrollerTraffic: Why is this turning out to be such a miserable flu season?
Dr. JJ Levenstein: Well, it’s likely because the H3N2 strain of Influenza A, which is more wicked and serious than H1N1, has emerged as the predominant strain this year. And because last year was a milder flu year, a lot of people chose not to immunize this year, assuming that it would be a mild season again.
ST: Is it too late to get the flu shot?
Levenstein: Not at all. Flu season isn’t even close to over, especially on the west coast. The CDC recommends that if you or your child has not been vaccinated, it’s still prudent to do so, especially if you are pregnant, have a child aged six months to 5 years, or have a child in daycare.
ST: Is the vaccine a sure thing?
Levenstein: The flu vaccine is about 70 percent protective against the current strains of flu; no vaccine can guarantee 100 percent protection.
StrollerTraffic: And if you do contract the flu? What then?
Levenstein: For those who do get the flu, even if vaccinated, treatment is primarily supportive (fluids, rest, symptomatic relief of congestion and aches) for milder cases. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is currently recommended for treatment of high-risk individuals, and those severely affected by the flu. This year, Tamiflu can be given to infants as young as 2 weeks of age (if necessary). However, it must be given within 40 hours of onset of flu symptoms, or it is ineffective.
StrollerTraffic: With that in mind, how can one tell if it’s the flu versus a nasty cold?
Levenstein: Flu symptoms typically consist of high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, cold and cough symptoms, and often sensitive, sore eyes. There is also a rapid test done on nasal mucus that can detect influenza, however it often produces a false negative. So ultimately it’s up to the clinician to decide if the evidence is strong enough to treat, even with a negative test.
StrollerTraffic: Ugh. When can you expect to feel better?
Levenstein: Influenza typically takes 5 to 7 days before one feels improved, and those affected by flu still shed virus for a few weeks after (seemingly) recovering. It’s very important when returning to daycare, school, or work, to keep this in mind. Good hand hygiene, not sharing food or drink, surface cleaning, and bagging up used tissues are always recommended. Children can be contagious several days before illness onset—and for 10 days or more after symptoms begin.
StrollerTraffic: So, other than vaccination, what can we do to keep this thing at bay?
Levenstein: Continue with year-round hand hygiene, social distancing when ill (PLEASE stay home until well!), and avoidance of crowded public places during flu season.