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Quality and Patient Safety

Flu 2018-2019: What You Should Know

The 2018-2019 flu season is striking hard in Georgia, with almost 300 individuals hospitalized throughout the metro Atlanta area and four influenza-associated deaths since Sept. 30, 2018, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The number of outpatient visits (for instance, in a doctor’s office, urgent care or public health clinic) for influenza-like illness has already surpassed the number of visits for this time last year and continues to trend higher. In Alabama, too, the number of influenza-like illnesses is beginning to climb.

For your health and the health of your loved ones, it’s essential that you take steps now to prevent the spread of flu, recognize the signs of illness and take precautions to keep you, your family and your coworkers healthy.

What is influenza?

Influenza, or “the flu,” is a viral respiratory tract infection. Since the infection is viral, it does not respond to antibiotics; however, if diagnosed early, a medical provider may prescribe an antiviral treatment like Tamiflu.

Anyone can become infected with the flu. Each year, between 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population experiences an influenza infection. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Severe cases can require hospitalization. The elderly, young children and people with certain health conditions are at a higher risk of experiencing flu-related complications.

What are the symptoms of influenza?

Each person may experience flu symptoms differently, and some may experience a more severe onset of symptoms than others. Signs someone may have the flu include:

  • Coughing, often severe
  • Exhaustion or fatigue lasting several weeks
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Sneezing at times
  • Sometimes a sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Flu symptoms can often be mistaken for a cold, though flu symptoms are most often more severe. Learn more about flu symptoms and possible complications at the CDC.

How is influenza diagnosed?

Diagnosis of influenza is often made based on one’s symptoms, though a quick lab test may be used to confirm the diagnosis and to “type” the virus so the medical provider knows more about which strain of influenza virus is making a person sick. The lab test typically involves a nasal swab and is ready for analysis in about 15 minutes.

Flu diagnoses can be made through your primary care medical provider’s office or through any Tanner Urgent Care location. Given how easily flu can spread, a medical provider can provide a written excuse for school or work if requested based on a positive flu diagnosis.

Who is at risk of complications from influenza?

The flu can make some people more ill than others or can lead to additional infections such as pneumonia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the populations at greatest risk for complications from the flu include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • People with diabetes and other endocrine disorders
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People with weakened immune systems (including cancer patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS)
  • People with respiratory and lung conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and others
  • People with kidney or liver disorders
  • People with certain neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
  • People with blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
  • And others

Find a full list of populations at increased risk of complications at the CDC.

How can I protect myself from the flu?

The best protection against the flu remains a seasonal flu shot. The flu vaccine offers protections against the most common strains of flu virus in circulation, and even if you should become sick from a strain not covered by this year’s flu vaccine, your symptoms will likely be less severe and the risk of requiring hospitalization drops.

The CDC also offers additional daily measures you can take to prevent the spread of the flu virus and other germs:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu.

What should I do if I get sick?

If you or your child develop flu-like symptoms, contact your primary care provider. He or she may ask you to come in for a visit or may make a diagnosis based on your description of symptoms. If you do not have a primary medical provider, you can call Tanner’s 24-hour physician referral line at 770-214-CARE to find one or visit any Tanner Urgent Care location.

The CDC encourages anyone who is — or who may be — sick with the flu to take three steps:

  1. Take antiviral medications, if prescribed. Antiviral medications are more effective if you begin taking them soon after symptoms begin. Take the full course of the medication as prescribed, and do not share the medication with others.
  2. Take precautions to protect others. That includes limiting contact with others, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough of sneeze, wash your hands frequently with soap and water and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with flu germs.
  3. Stay home until you are well. That means you should stay home from work, school or other social commitments until you have been fever-free (without the aid of a fever reducer like ibuprofen) for at least 24 hours.

Read more about what you should do if you develop flu symptoms from the CDC.

Additional resources

The below links offer additional information that can help protect you and your loved ones.

Influenza: What You Need to Know - This easy-to-understand summary from the Georgia Department of Public Health provides an overview of the flu virus, who’s at risk of infection and how it spreads.

Influenza Overview - From Tanner’s Health Library, this article provides a quick look at what influenza is, how it spreads, the symptoms and more.

Influenza in Children - From Tanner’s Health Library, learn more about the warning signs of flu in children.

Flu? Know When to Go to the Emergency Department - This article from one of Tanner’s board-certified, fellowship-trained emergency medicine physicians offers advice on when your symptoms should be evaluated in a medical clinic or urgent care, and when you should head to the hospital for emergency care.

Why Will You Get the Flu? - From a board-certified family medicine physician on Tanner’s medical staff, this article offers tips on things you can do differently now to reduce your risk of catching the flu.

Preventive Steps to Stop the Flu - A flu shot is the first line of protection — and it’s not too late to get one — but the CDC offers other things you can do as well to stop the spread of the flu and protect yourself and your loved ones.

Treating the Flu - Learn more about the antiviral medications you may be prescribed if diagnosed with the flu, from the CDC.

How to Stay Healthy at Work - From Tanner’s Health Library, an overview on how to avoid the flu throughout your workday.

Flu Activity in Alabama - This site from the Alabama Department of Public Health provides information on the growing flu activity throughout the state.

Flu Activity in Georgia - Keep up with the latest details on flu activity throughout Georgia with the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Georgia Weekly Influenza Reports (.pdfs).

Tanner’s Visitor Policy - This policy is intended to help keep our patients, visitors and the community at large safe and healthy.

Virus or Bacteria? - Understanding the difference between a virus — like the flu — and bacteria will provide insight on your medical provider’s treatment plan.

Flu Q&A - The Georgia Department of Community Health offers easy answers to the tough questions about flu.

Flu Quiz - From Tanner’s Health Library, find out if you’re keen on your influenza facts!

Video resources

The below video resources from the CDC offer additional advice on staying well this flu season.

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