The current flu season has been unusually active, with approximately 6.4 percent of doctor visits in 2018 alone for flu or for flu-like illnesses, said Wyndy Looney, director of Nursing at University Medical Center. She said so far this year, flu activity is higher than peak flu activity observed during many previous flu seasons.
Looney made the comments during her Feb. 5 presentation, “Influenza,” at the Mini Medical School Program, a collaboration of OLLI (The University of Alabama’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) and the College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC.
Influenza, or the flu, is a virus that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It produces mild to severe symptoms and can sometimes lead to death. Flu season typically begins in October/November and can last until May, with a peak in January or February.
Looney shared flu identification, prevention and treatment information.
The flu presents itself similarly to a common cold, but the flu often produces a high fever, has a sudden onset and lasts longer than a cold. She said if you have the flu and your symptoms are mild, stay home to prevent spreading the illness. Contact a health care provider if symptoms are severe enough for treatment, but she said not to go to a hospital emergency department unless you have emergency symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.
Staying home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone will also help prevent the flu from spreading.
Preventive measures include staying away from sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often – and getting a flu shot.
The flu vaccine helps the body develop immunities to specific strands of the flu. When a large percent of the population is vaccinated and has developed an immunity, indirect protection from the infectious disease is created, Looney said. This is called “Herd Immunity” and can protect those who might not be immune.