Major media outlets across the country, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and VetStreet.com, are reporting that this year’s nationwide cases of influenza have made it a full-blown epidemic. The threshold set by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials for any outbreak to be ranked as an epidemic is when the associated death toll reaches above 7.2 percent.
“While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations,” says Dr. Joseph Bresee, Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in the CDC Influenza Division.
As of last week, deaths attributed to the flu and pneumonia hit 7.3 percent, with nine of the 10 United States’ regions experiencing elevated flu activity. These figures confirm that seasonal flu has spread across the country—reaching high levels five weeks earlier than normal. The remaining two U.S. regions (comprised of the Southwest and California) report “normal” flu activity. From what I’ve read, “normal flu activity” seems pretty rough. I’d hate to contract the abnormal version of it.
To date, higher than average flu outbreaks have been reported in at least 47 states, including the deaths of 20 children and two adults. Particularly alarming about this outbreak is that flu season generally begins more toward the end of January or beginning of February. So this year’s predominant strain of H3N2 (Influenza A) not only hit earlier but is much stronger than usual. And while vaccine shortages have been reported across the country, Influenza A is among the strains covered by this year’s vaccine.
To reduce your risk of illness and help prevent the spread of the flu in your home and place of work, follow these precautions:
- Check out the prevalence of flu in our area, using the free government website Flu Near You.
- Get vaccinated. Take advantage of free websites like Health Map Vaccine Finder, which provides a map of places in your neighborhood which stock the vaccine.
- Wash your hands frequently throughout the day with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.
- Use alcohol-based hand cleaners/sanitizers often to ward off germs.
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose.
- Always cough and sneeze into a tissue and then immediately throw the tissue away.
- Stay at least six feet away from people who are sick.
- If you’re sick, limit your contact with others.
- If you become ill, stay home for at least 24 fever-free hours after your symptoms have abated.
- Improve your immune system’s ability to fight off illness with daily exercise, adequate sleep and a balanced diet. For me, a balanced diet includes lots of bacon. But I’m not entirely sure that would help humans fight the flu.
- Use disinfectant swabs to wipe down items which harbor germs such as phone receivers, keypads, copy/fax machines and coffee pot handles.
- Business owners and/or managers should discuss additional cleaning methods which focus on daily sterilization.
- Don’t worry about giving your dog or cat the flu. Human strains don’t affect dogs. And, more good news—canine cases can’t be given to humans. (In case you were wondering.)
According to the CDC, flu symptoms include the following: fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. If you contract the flu and have underlying medical problems, call your doctor immediately for possible prescription of an antiviral drug.
Antiviral treatment, started as early as possible after becoming ill, is recommended for any patients with confirmed or suspected influenza who are hospitalized, seriously ill, or ill and at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, including young children, people 65 and older, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant women. Treatment should begin as soon as influenza is suspected, regardless of vaccination status or rapid test results and should not be delayed for confirmatory testing.
The CDC offers free print materials which feature flu recommendations, downloadable at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/freeresources/print.htm. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, check out the RJWestmore Training System by Universal/Fire Life Safety Services. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system on the market.