Monday, January 6, 2014
If you’ve noticed more people are sick at work or at school, it might be the flu. Infections are on the rise locally, as seasonal influenza has gone from barely detectable levels in early December to widespread in King County.
“It’s easy to get complacent about the flu, since we see it every year, but it brings real hardship and dangers,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Catching the flu can not only disrupt your life, it can be severe enough to send you to the hospital.”
Two noteworthy aspects of this year’s flu season:
- Younger adults face a greater risk of severe illness than usual. Locally and across the US, healthcare providers are reporting an increase in severe influenza infections – requiring intensive hospital care for young and middle-age adults. The predominant strain circulating currently is influenza A H1N1, which happens to be the same one that led to the 2009 flu pandemic. This virus causes infections and severe illness in all ages, but compared to other influenza strains, it causes higher rates of illness and death among young and middle-age adults, including those with no underlying health conditions.
- Pregnant women should get vaccinated at any stage of pregnancy. The flu vaccine is both safe and effective for pregnant women, including during the first trimester. Vaccinating during pregnancy protects not only the mother but the fetus and child as well. Newborn infants can’t be vaccinated until they’re six months old.
Anyone who lives with or cares for an infant younger than six months should also get vaccinated to protect the infant from getting flu.
Other members of the community at increased risk for severe influenza include the elderly and people who have long-term health problems, like diabetes, asthma, and heart or lung problems.
Flu vaccine is the best protection; other drugs also available
The flu vaccine is in plentiful supply, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated to reduce your chances of getting the flu. Influenza activity generally peaks in January or later in our region and continues circulating until spring.
“Anyone six months and older who has not yet been vaccinated this season should get an influenza vaccine now to reduce their risk of illness,” said Duchin.
Another important line of protection is antiviral drugs, especially for people with severe influenza or at high risk of complications. Antiviral treatment should be started promptly if you are pregnant or in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.
Where to get flu vaccine
Flu vaccine (shots and nasal spray) is available at many healthcare provider offices and pharmacies for those who have insurance or are able to pay for vaccination. Visit http://flushot.healthmap.org to help find locations.
If you don’t have insurance, you can find free or low-cost insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder. Other immunization assistance is available through the Family Health Line at 800-322-2588.
For more information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/health/flu.