The flu is here and hitting Texans hard! Most of the United States is experiencing an early and robust flu season this year. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a flu update reporting that the number of patients seeking medical care for influenza-like illness (ILI) has escalated in the past week. The predominant strain of flu at this time is H3N2 virus, or Influenza A, although other viruses are also widely circulating.
“H3N2 is a particularly hard-hitting flu,” said Advance ER Director Dr. Michael Chiang. “It can be especially harmful for the elderly, babies and people with compromised immune systems.”
While Texas remains one of the top states reporting influenza outbreaks, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. This year’s flu shot won’t inoculate against H3N2, but it will protect you from other viruses, such as the common H1N1. The CDC recommends a flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.
“I would strongly recommend the flu shot for everyone, especially this year,” said Dr. Chiang. “You can get the shot at your regular physician or pharmacy. But it should be done quickly to start turning the tide on this wave of sickness in our area. Remember, it takes up to 10 days to become effective, so you really shouldn’t wait any longer if you don’t want to get the flu.”
What are the symptoms?
According to the CDC, the symptoms of H3N2 are similar to other strains of influenza including:
- Runny nose
- Body aches
In addition, patients may experience headache, sore throat, sneezing and chills. Complications can be life-threatening, such as pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalizations and even death. So far this year, 9 children have died from influenza.
What are the emergency symptoms?
If you or your child shows any of these symptoms, get emergency medical help immediately:
- Fast, labored breathing or difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in chest or abdomen
- Bluish skin color
- Not responsive
- Severe, persistent vomiting
- Fever with a rash
- Flu symptoms diminish, then return with fever and worse cough
- Infants: unable to eat, few wet diapers, no tears when crying, trouble breathing
What is the treatment?
Most patients recover normally in two weeks from the flu, but others may need medical care. “Patients in the high risk category are encouraged to get an antiviral drug as soon as flu-like symptoms begin,” said Dr. Chiang. “The medication must be obtained from your physician or ER immediately in order to be effective in reducing the amount of sick time that you will experience.”
Other medical care may include receiving intravenous fluids for hydration purposes. “Making sure the sick person stays hydrated is very important. We can help with that at the ER, but you can also try sports drinks or electrolyte powder,” said Dr. Chiang. “Also, patients experiencing respiratory complications should seek medical help right away.”
How can I avoid getting the flu?
These basic tips are recommended to try to prevent the spread of viruses:
- Frequent hand washing with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Clean surfaces carefully
- Sneeze into a tissue and throw it away
- Avoid contact with sick people
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes
- Minimize contact with pigs (they can transmit the H3N2 virus)
How can I avoid spreading the flu?
If you have the flu, the CDC recommends you stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone. At that point, the fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines. Avoid contact with others during the duration of your fever and the subsequent 24 hours. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, then throw the tissue away. Wear a disposable mask if you must go out for medications or to the doctor’s office. Wash your hands frequently. Run an air purifier with UV light, if possible. Clean surfaces, sanitize toothbrush, and wash clothing and bedding when you are able.
“It’s up to all of us to work at preventing the spread of these viruses and to do the right things for our health when we are sick,” said Dr. Chiang. “If you are at high risk for complications, if you are too sick, dehydrated or run down, get medical help at the ER which is open 24/7. Otherwise, get rest and plenty of fluids at home. Take ibuprofen according to directions for pain and fever. If you live alone, make sure someone is checking up on you. We want everyone to be safe and healthy this flu season.”
Meet Dr. Chiang:
Michael Chiang, M.D., is the Managing Partner and Director of SPECIALIST NOWSM at Advance ER.
Dr. Chiang graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine, and completed his residency from UCLA. He is board-certified and a member of the American College of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Chiang has been practicing emergency medicine for two decades and sees patients of all ages for emergency health care.
He previously served as the Chief of Emergency Medicine at the nationally renowned The Heart Hospital at Baylor Plano.