Blog | Friday, February 15, 2013

This year's flu season isn't mild

The last two years have graced us with atypically mild flu seasons. This year we're not so lucky. The flu season seems to have started early, and at least on the East Coast is quite severe. This week Boston has declared a public health emergency as their emergency departments became swamped with flu cases. In Pennsylvania, a hospital erected a tent outside its emergency department for the increasing number of flu patients. The number of flu cases is increasing in California too, though we may be a week or two behind the wave of illness that has struck the East.

What should we all do to avoid getting sick?
--Everyone over 6 months (except for a few exceptions) should get the flu vaccine.
--If you get sick, stay home except to get medical care.
--While sick, limit your contact with others as much as possible.
--Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or with hand disinfectant, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

There are antiviral medicines that can decrease the duration of the flu. They are only recommended for people who are likely to have serious complications from the flu--pregnant women, older people, or people with chronic illnesses. If you are in those categories, contact your doctor at the first sign of flu symptoms. Antiviral medications are more effective the earlier they are started.

The season hasn't peaked yet, and may turn out to be just moderate. We'll know in a few weeks. In the meantime I recommend a little social distancing until the worst is behind us. Stay a couple of feet away from people. Say hi with a friendly wave instead of a handshake. Write an IOU to be redeemed in the spring for the hug and kiss with which you usually greet a friend. She'll thank you if it turns out either of you is about to get sick.

And get your flu shot.

Learn more:
Flu Season Strikes Early And, In Some Places, Hard (Associated Press)
As Cases Spike, Flu Season May Be Peaking In Boston (Shots, NPR health news)
Number of NYC flu cases higher than in past years (Wall Street Journal)
Google Flu Trends for Los Angeles
Seasonal Influenza: Flu Basics (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Hospital Opens Emergency Tent in Midst of Increasing Flu Cases (NBC Phiiladelphia)

Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000. Holding privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he is also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA's Department of Medicine. This post originally appeared at his blog.