Influenza rarely goes quietly into the night.
From coast to coast, the 2015-16 influenza season is going out like a lion after coming in like a lamb.
From October through mid-December, the Centers for Disease Control report influenza activity was mild in most regions of the United States. Activity began to spike in late December 2015 and continued to rise slowly through early February.
But like this year’s El Nino-warmed winter temperatures, flu cases have soared nationwide.
In New York, the state’s health department received 416 reports of flu cases statewide for the week ending Jan. 23 – a 72 percent spike over the previous week. For the week ending February 6, Iowa, Puerto Rico and six other states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York) were reporting widespread flu activity, according to the CDC.
“It’s only a matter of time before we get into that widespread scenario,” Megan Helmecke, an infection preventionist at Albany Medical Center Hospital, told the Albany Times Union.
The CDC attributes the drastic increase in late-season influenza cases to Influenza A pdm09 (H1N1), the source of many identified cases from mid-December to early February. Last year’s flu epidemic was caused by a mismatch between the the vaccine and the most active influenza strain in circulation. This year’s vaccine targets both H1N1 and last year’s top flu menace, H3N2. Thankfully, no strong mutations of the virus have arrived this season.
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and in some younger patients, vomiting and diarrhea.
While many Americans – especially those who have dodged the flu so far this season – are breathing easy and feeling as they’ve escaped the most miserable virus of the year yet again, the truth is we need to be as vigilant as ever in our flu prevention practices during the home stretch of this year’s influenza season.
Experts advise the key to staying flu-free during the home stretch of this year’s season is remaining vigilant in our anti-influenza measures. As Dr. Natalie Azar, chief medical correspondent for NBC, noted in a Feb. 19 Today Show report, it’s never too late in the season to get vaccinated. Also, the usual recommended flu prevention measures apply: Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when soap is unavailable, cough and sneeze into your elbow and stay home from work or school if you’re ill.
This year, H1N1 – often called the swine flu – is the culprit behind the seasonal uptick in flu cases. The CDC stresses that this year’s vaccine is a good match for the dominant influenza strain circulating nationwide – making vaccination our best defense against catching a late-season case of the flu.
“It’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Lynette Bramer, an epidemiologist in the influenza division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Health.com. “We are expecting a lot more flu coming down the road. So this is still a great time to go get vaccinated.”