The following is written by Edie Jeffers, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Communications & Community Relations Manager.
For most of us, there’s some simple steps we can take to take to prevent getting the flu, or treat symptoms at home for a less serious case. While we may feel poorly, we might miss a few days of work or school to stay home to get well.
For people at higher risk of complications (very young children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women or new moms) and with high-risk conditions (diabetes, asthma, heart disease), the flu is more serious and can be deadly.
As of Jan. 22, we reported nine people in Pierce County had died of flu-related complications so far this flu season. Most had underlying health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease or were at higher risk of complications.
Around this time last flu season, we had 25 flu-related deaths. The 2016-2017 flu season was the worst in several years with 50 deaths, as many as the previous three seasons combined.
It’s too early to tell how the 2017-2018 season will compare to the last. But we know flu is widespread in Washington right now, the virus is unpredictable, and the season typically lasts until April.
While everyone’s health situation is different, most of us can follow simple guidance to stay well or get well. These four steps will go a long way to protect yourself, your family, and everyone around you from the virus:
- Get your flu shot.
- Wash your hands often.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
“I’M SICK. NOW WHAT?”
Most people who get the flu have a mild illness and can recover at home in a few days. Symptoms are:
- Fever over 100.4°F or feeling feverish/chills.
- Sore throat.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Muscle or body aches.
- Vomiting or diarrhea (sometimes).
Over-the-counter medication for pain and fever, plenty of fluids, and chicken soup should do the trick.
People seeking treatment for the flu that they could take care of at home or with help from their healthcare provider has put a strain on healthcare facilities. Emergency rooms have reported high demand. You can help ease this demand and free up space in the ER for people who are very sick. Contact your healthcare provider about your flu symptoms before you go to the ER. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency warning signs someone who needs immediate medical attention are:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
- Bluish skin color.
- Not drinking enough fluids.
- Not waking up or not interacting.
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held.
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
- Fever with a rash.
Additional signs for infants
- Unable to eat.
- Trouble breathing.
- No tears when crying.
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
- Sudden dizziness.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
Again, everyone’s health situation is unique. Be proactive. If you are at higher risk of complications or have high-risk conditions, call your healthcare provider right away if you have flu symptoms.
THE VALUE OF A FLU SHOT
The flu shot is your best protection against the flu. Period. According to the CDC, this year’s vaccine is a good match for the most common flu in circulation (H3N2), and it even if you get sick, your symptoms will likely be less severe.
We recommend people six months and older get the shot every year. You may have heard news reports about the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine. The fact is if you get a flu shot and still get the flu, the vaccine can still reduce your symptoms, their duration, and the chance you will spread the virus. The last point is important for people who, for medical reasons, can’t get the vaccine. Any amount of protection against the virus can save lives.
Do your part to fight the flu in Pierce County. Learn more about the flu vaccine and where to get it for you and your family.