While the Wuhan China-based Coronavirus is getting the big headlines these days, the flu should really be on your radar. New York State flu numbers are on the rise — at a greater pace than last season. According to the NYS Flu Tracker, weekly totals are surpassing the deadly 2017-2018 season’s totals. While there have been no reported cases of the Corona Virus in NY, there has already been thousands of cases of the Flu Virus this season. Compared to recent years, for the weeks ending February 1, there were 15,740 cases in 2017-18, 7,066 cases in 2018-19, and 17,231 cases in this year.
Influenza vs. Corona
The coronavirus is dangerous, and while it can lead to pneumonia and be fatal, all the reported cases in America have been treated. Complications from influenza can be deadly as well, and this season there have already been fatal cases in New York State and throughout the Country. According to the CDC, nationally, there have been up to an estimated 30,000 deaths this flu season attributed to its complications. One of the main reasons the coronavirus is getting so much attention is because it is novel and there haven’t been any vaccines coordinated to help defend against it. The strains of the flu vaccines change every season to help match the specifics of the suspected viruses.
How they are spread
While there is still much unknown about how the 2109-nCoV spread, the CDC advises that most often, it occurs from close contact (about 6 feet), mainly through inhalation of respiratory droplets through either a cough or sneeze. This is similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread, but the flu is also confirmed to spread by touching a surface that the flu virus is on and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. The flu is considered to be highly contagious, yet because of its familiarity and seasonal occurrence, it is often under-emphasized.
Common flu signs and symptoms and when it is contagious
Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and can include fever chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some people may vomit or experience diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. A mild case of the flu could be confused with having a bad cold, where the symptoms would be less intense and have a more gradual onset. While both are viral in nature, the symptoms of the flu are usually more severe.
You may be able to pass on flu to someone else before you know you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Symptoms can begin about two days after the virus enters the body.
Prevention, Protection and Treatment
The CDC recommends a three-part protection plan. While it doesn’t remove all risks against getting flu, it will significantly improve the mortality to its exposure. The number one recommendation is to get the flu vaccine. This shot is designed to match the most common influenza strains for the season. While it doesn’t always have a 100 percent effectiveness match, it has been proven to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalizations and flu-related deaths.
Throughout the season and in general, it is important to take action to prevent the spread of germs. This includes limiting contact with sick individuals and when sick, limit your contact with others. This includes staying home and away from others for at least 24 hours after being fever-free. Wash your hands often using antibacterial soaps when available, and frequently use alcohol-based hand rubs between contacts. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and dispose of them in a receptacle. Don’t forget to clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with germs. Some choose to wear masks to ask as a barrier of droplets or contact with your mouth and nose.
See your doctor if you feel sick. He or she will be able to test you for the flu and give you treatment options. If possible, treatment can include anti-virals like Tamiflu. Anti-virals are different than antibiotics, as they treat the virus strains and not bacteria. The benefits of anti-virals are that they reduce the severity and duration of your sickness and also limit the mortality of flu complications.
It is important to help prevent the spread of the flu, while you may be a healthy person, spreading the virus can be deadly for others including those at higher risks for complications, including those with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly or babies. This flu is far from over. Do your best to help limit its severity, and when in doubt, visit a doctor. I have personally seen repeat flu cases this season. Beyond the illness, the flu impacts and disrupts the entire community, the schools, businesses and other establishments. Do your part to help reduce the risks.
Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at SPinto@iaff287.org.
(The guest column appeared in the Feb. 13 edition of the Long Beach Herald.)