Updated: Oct 27
One thing I know for sure is that last year our flu season was likely one of the lightest on record. I diagnosed two patients with influenza-maybe a rare silver lining in comparison to the COVID-19 pandemic. What I'm seeing now in my practice (2022) are an increase in cases of children with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), hand foot and mouth disease (coxsackie and enterovirus), and the Influenza virus. I'm also diagnosing and treating more children with croup (parainfluenza and influenza virus), than ever before.
This may be an easy predictor of how the upcoming influenza season of 2022-2023 (October-March), could be a doozy-especially with older adults who are more prone to the flu due to comorbidities. There will likely be more kids out of school sick as well as employees out of our local businesses due to illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 750,000 to 1 million people are hospitalized each flu season in the U.S., and 30,000 to 80,000 people die from it and about 90 percent of these deaths and 50 to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur among people 65 and older.
How the sick can get sicker
Influenza itself can be deadly in vulnerable patients due to difficulties in breathing and dehydration. But complications from the virus including pneumonia can be deadly.
It starts with inflammation. This inflammation is caused by your body's inflammatory response, to fight off the infection. This can cause aches, pains and respiratory distress that make you feel like your body has been hit by a truck.
The flu virus also attaches to and infects the cells that line the mucous membranes in the back of the throat, nose, and bronchial tubes. Normally, these cells eject infectious agents out of the body through the nose or mouth, or they are swallowed. But when impaired by the flu, they allow the bacteria to slip down into the bronchial tubes and trigger a secondary infection in the lungs.
Unfortunately, lying in bed makes people, especially frailer folks, more susceptible to pneumonia. When you're not up and moving about you don't cough as much which does not allow for secretions to get out of the lungs. This is worse if we remain laying down. Things can get worse from there. Once infection sets in, the bacteria can clog up the air sacs in the lungs.
The inflammatory response continues for a period of time thereafter. It can involve the blood vessels that feed the heart, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke for weeks or months. In rare cases, the blood vessels feeding the brain can also be affected.
Know your risk factors for severe flu
Age plays a big role in determining who gets sick and how ill they become. As you get older, your recovery rate and your body’s ability to heal itself is slower and not as robust as it is when you’re in your 20s.
Older people are generally less likely to spike a fever, a sign that the body is mounting an immune response. What’s more, vaccines don’t work as well as you age. And seniors are more likely to have other illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, which worsen the flu and its effects on our organ systems.
How to protect yourself
If you think you’re coming down with the flu, set up an appointment with your medical provider so you can seek treatment immediately. Starting an antiviral medication like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can reduce the length and severity of illness if it’s taken within the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Speak to your healthcare
Getting vaccinated is still the most important thing you can do to deflect the flu and avoid complications. Each year, the vaccine is formulated based on what scientists predict will be the predominant strains of influenza in the coming season due to the previous year strain. Because of this we may not have optimal protection several months after getting the vaccine but generally there is more protection than not getting vaccinated
This protection could mean the difference between just feeling run over for a week vs having serious complications. Research shows that vaccination also lowers a person’s chances of having a heart attack or other major cardiac event — or dying from one — over the following year.
And at least for this flu season, there’s another imperative for getting the shot: to lower the odds of battling two potentially deadly viruses at the same time. According to most of the research that I've read, no one really knows how individuals co-infected with COVID-19 and influenza will do and at this point however I feel confident that a person who presents with both viruses will have a worse outcome.
*The tips and resources below will help you learn about actions you can take to protect yourself and others from flu and help stop the spread of germs.
Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives Tips on hand washing and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers Hand washing resources from the It’s A SNAP program, aimed at preventing school absenteeism by promoting clean hands. From the School Network for Absenteeism Prevention, a collaborative project of the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cleaning Institute.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.