In the land down under, Aussies welcome spring with open arms . Being in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is just coming out of winter, and a particularly difficult flu season. They reported 3812 hospitalizations and 504 deaths associated with influenza this flu season. Those numbers are almost twice what was reported in the 2016 flu season.
Fortunately, the flu season in Australia is coming to a close. Plus, Australia is on the other side of the world and in the Southern Hemisphere. That can’t really have much to do with flu season in Greenville?
Well, yes, it can.
It turns out that, in general, our flu season here in the U.S. often mirrors the previous season in the Southern Hemisphere. This is in no way certain, though. Influenza is a slippery virus that undergoes frequent mutations that can make it better or worse over time. Other factors come into play, too. For example, some people have natural immunity to specific strains of flu from previous seasons. Those numbers in relation to the strains that are circulating impact how rapidly the virus can spread. Put simply, predicting the severity of any particular flu season is not an exact science. We just have to use the best information we have and go from there.
So the information we have now is that the season was worse than normal in Australia, and the flu type A(H3N2) caused most of the problems there.
So, armed with this information, what can we do here in Hunt County, TX to help limit the impact of flu on our community this year?
- Get your flu shot. It turns out that the flu type A(H3N2) is well-matched in this year’s vaccine. Unfortunately, protection from a well-matched H3N2 vaccine isn’t as good as it is for other common types of flu. Even so, studies have shown that getting the flu vaccine can reduce severity of disease. This will be very important if, like Australia, we see an increase in hospitalizations and deaths from flu this year. It’s better to spend a few days in bed feeling miserable than to spend them in the ICU, or worse. If you have concerns about the flu shot, learn about myths commonly associated with the vaccine and contact your physician.
- Take care of your health. Eating right, exercising regularly, getting a good night’s sleep, and washing your hands will help your body fight off the flu virus and other infectious agents you come in contact with. And if you suffer from a chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma, be sure that you are following your physician’s recommendations carefully. Chronic disease can make you more susceptible to the flu, and it can put you at risk for a more severe case if you do fall ill. So keep chronic illness under tight control.
- Get help early if you think you have the flu. Medicines called antivirals are available to help decrease the severity of the flu, but they are most effective if taken within the first day or two after symptoms begin. So if you feel the flu coming on, call your doctor.
The flu can have a profound effect on the individual, the community, and the population as a whole. Beyond the health effects of the flu, there are significant economic effects. We spend 10.4 billion dollars on the direct costs of the flu each year in the U.S. But the good news is that we have the tools mentioned above at our disposal to decrease the flu’s impact on us. And these tools work fast. So don’t hesitate, contact your doctor to get your flu shot and make a plan to stay healthy during the 2017 flu season in Greenville.