by Kimberly Allen, RN
According to federal health officials, with the number of deaths in children reaching 20 so far this year, the flu has reached epidemic proportions. The CDC reports that this year between the end of September and the end of December 2012 the number of flu cases reported was 22,048 as opposed to 849 cases of the flu reported in the same time period in 2011. That’s a significant increase from last year, 26 times more to be exact.
This year most of the cases of flu especially the severe ones are caused by a dominant strain of influenza virus called H3N2. The last time the flu season started this early was in 2009 when the dominant strain was H1N1. The experts state that past experience has shown that this particular strain is especially serious in young children and older adults. People that are suffering from a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease as well as people with an impaired immune system are also more seriously affected. However, death from complications related to the flu in healthy children as well.
Most people that die from the flu actually die from the flu virus they die from flu related complications. The most common serious complication of the flu is a bacterial respiratory infections, usually pneumonia. There are other complications that though considered rare tend to occur more frequently during an epidemic, especially when the strain is as dominant this years. Some children may develop an ear infection or tonsillitis, while other can suffer from meningitis or encephalitis, both of which can be fatal. Most of the children that die from flu related complications have underlying health issues like genetic or chromosomal disorders, however, at least 40% of the deaths are in healthy children. Some children can develop a condition known as compartment syndrome. What many people don’t think about is that the flu virus also attacks the muscles which is the reason for the general aches and pains you get when you have the flu. The flu virus has been in your body for several days before you have symptoms so when the symptoms appear they appear “fast and hard”. So healthy children especially those participating in sports the virus can hit particularly harder because they don’t feel that ill so they practice and/or play their sport and go home only to wake up in the night violently ill. The exertion moves the virus through their system faster than it would a child that had no participated in activity. And as the heart is a muscle it becomes exhausted and can actually give out. In fact healthy children die more quickly than children with pre existing conditions.
The best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination. Though the vaccine is not perfect this years vaccine is a good match to protect against the H3N2 virus with 62% effectiveness. In addition to the potential to protect against getting the flu it can shorten the length of time you have the flu and reduce the severity of your symptoms should you get the flu. Other than the vaccine the single most important thing you can do is practice good hand washing. Hand sanitizers are convenient and work to an extent but they should not replace washing your hands with soap and warm water. Even if you use hand sanitizer you need to thoroughly wash your hands frequently during the day, especially if you’re around children. Remember the flu virus is carried in the tiny droplets of moisture that are expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets land everywhere in the surrounding area and can survive for up to 8 hours or surfaces so if you have someone in your family that is sick or work in a day care or school it’s important to clean the surfaces with a disinfectant frequently.
Most cases of the flu can be treated at home with rest and lots of fluids, however, if you are having difficulty breathing,or having chest pain you should seek medical attention. Also, if you’ve been ill and then start feeling better but then a few days later develop a fever contact your Dr as you may have a secondary infection.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.