It’s hard to tell when this year’s flu season will end, but a vaccine remains the best way to prevent the virus, according to a panel of University of Oklahoma medical experts.
“I think the one predictable thing about influenza season is that it will be unpredictable. Every year is different,” said Dr. Cynthia McCloskey, director of microbiology and virology laboratories at OU Medical Center, at a news conference on Wednesday.
Seventy-four Oklahomans have died from influenza and 1,597 have been hospitalized due to the virus since Sept. 1 of last year, according the latest numbers from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Flu season usually begins in September and ends in March.
This year, the most common strains have been H3N2 and H1N1, McCloskey said. While there have been more cases than average, rates of the disease are not unusually high.
“It seems like we have a lot of flu. And we do, but it’s really not at that pandemic proportion,” McCloskey said.
While the flu shot takes two weeks to take effect, it is still the most effective way to avoid getting sick, said Dr. Rachel Franklin, medical director of OU Physicians Family Medicine in Oklahoma City.
“Those who resist a flu vaccine don’t really understand what the flu actually is. The flu is a viral pneumonia. It is actually quite serious. It’s not a stomach bug. It’s not a cold. It will lay you out and it may kill you,” she said at the news conference on Wednesday.
People who receive the flu shot may get a fever or a sore arm. But they won’t be injected with any live virus cells. And although the vaccine is less effective this year than in years past, it can still mitigate the effects of the disease if someone does become sick.
“It may not prevent you against being infected, but it may prevent you from dying or from being hospitalized or dying, should you get the flu,” Franklin said.
OU Physicians still has hundreds of doses of the vaccine available, Franklin said.
The most common symptoms of influenza include a fever and a cough. Older people are more likely to develop body aches, while younger people are more likely to feel fatigued. More serious complications of the illness include heart palpitations, paleness and shortness of breath.
The elderly, children under five years old and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, emphysema, heart disease and obesity are most at risk.
People who come down with the flu should focus on resting and drinking fluids. People taking care of others with the flu should wear a mask and carefully disinfect surfaces, Franklin said.
Most importantly, people with the flu should do everything they can do avoid spreading it to others, Franklin said.
“If you are at work, go home. Employers, I’m personally asking you to find a way to help your staff stay home when they’re sick. It keeps all of us more healthy,” she said.
Franklin recommends staying at home until 24 hours after a fever has broken, or five to six days into the illness.
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