Each year hundreds and thousands will develop influenza.
According to reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 80,000 people died of the flu and its complications last winter.
It was the deadliest in more than 40 years.
This flu season, health professionals like Michelle Tibbetts, MSN, FNP-BC Nurse Practitioner at University Health Services, are seeing a decline in confirmed cases so far.
“It seems like the trend is definitely lower than it was in previous years,” Tibbetts said. “Definitely last year for sure. It was pretty hard-hitting; but, it’s been pretty decreased right now. It was definitely higher and more intense.”
Holly Allison, MSN, CNP nurse practitioner at DeWeese Health Center agrees the season seems slower than normal.
“We’ve had minimal cases and then when I kind of look back at my emails and notes from last year,” Allison said. We’ve had about ten more cases than we currently have now.”
Confirming the flu can also be a challenge if a patient does not seek a doctor. The cold and flu can have very similar symptoms. Sometimes, it can be difficult for individuals and parents to distinguish between the two. Allison says the most important difference is that influenza can kill if left untreated.
Tibbetts says the biggest indication to recognize is the abrupt onset.
“It’s going to happen pretty suddenly as opposed to like a cold which is a pretty gradual onset,” Tibbetts said. “You may have a lot of chest discomfort with the flu versus the cold, and you can have a headache as well. A headache is more common with the flu. Usually the fever, cough, sore throat a little bit, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue.”
Allison says patients should be able to feel the difference.
“People are sicker on the flu,” Allison said. I always tell my patients, it feels like a cold on steroids because they just feel awful. It can range from mild to severe. If it feels different than their average cold. Cold symptoms, we can’t do much about. We just treat the symptoms.”
Allison usually treats flu patients with an anti-viral medication to limit the duration and severity of the illness.
Despite the decline in the early season, The CDC recommends everyone aged 6 months and older to vaccinate every year.
Tibbetts says the reason for vaccination is simple: Herd Immunity.
“It’s all about Herd immunity,” Tibbetts said. The more people that are going to get vaccinated, the more you are going to protect most of the people around you. If someone chooses not to get vaccinated, but you have 100 people who are vaccinated, most likely you’re going to protect that person that doesn’t have it.”
She also says if you only have one person with the vaccine and 100 people who don’t then a group could see more of an outbreak.
Herd immunity is especially important to protect those who are at higher risk.
According to the CDC, some groups are high risk for flu complications, these include young children, pregnant women, those 65 and older and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
These groups are encouraged to get vaccinated yearly.
“Most flu vaccines they cover three or four of the likely strains that studies have shown are going to be prevalent within the flu season,” Allison said.
The CDC reports show influenza Type A H3N2 strain viruses dominated overall during the 2017-2018 season.
This year the vaccines were updated to better match circulating viruses. The most three common circulating are Influenza Type A H1N1, Type A H3N2
The current vaccinations will protect against all three strains.
“Even if it (the vaccination) doesn’t protect you from getting the flu, it still minimizes the severity of it,” Allison said.
Tibbetts says if choosing not to vaccinate this season, try to keep yourself healthy.
“Making sure you are you know eating, drinking, sleeping, exercising and decreasing the stress that you have as well,” Tibbetts said. “That will keep you healthy even if you do get sick.”