By Uma Malhotra, MD
Infectious Disease and Travel Medicine Specialist
Virginia Mason Medical Center
Just weeks into the flu season and we have already reached “epidemic” levels in Washington state, with dozens of flu-related deaths reported. Patients are flooding emergency departments in western Washington, complaining of flu symptoms. Around King County, the number of flu cases in emergency departments is the highest it has been in five years.
The best way to protect yourself and your family is to get the flu vaccine yearly. It is still not too late to get the vaccine since flu season usually peaks in January or February and extends into springtime, frequently as late as May.
What is flu?
Flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses and people of all ages can get it.
Symptoms of the flu
Symptoms of the flu can include fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache, weakness and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea are less common symptoms that mostly affect children. It is also important to remember that not everyone has all the symptoms. For example, some people do not develop a fever.
How sick do people get with the flu?
Some people with the flu get very sick. Many require hospitalization and some die. Those who get very sick are often younger than five years old or older than 65. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, asthma and kidney disease – as well as pregnant woman and those in the postpartum period – can also get very sick.
How does flu spread?
People with the flu can spread the virus by sneezing or coughing causing the release of droplets, which may be inhaled by others nearby. Touching a contaminated surface – like an infected person’s hand, a table or doorknob – and then touching your nose or mouth can also spread the virus.
Most people are infectious starting one day prior to symptoms up to five to seven days after symptoms begin. However, young children and those who are severely ill may shed the virus for longer periods. [Read more…]