As people prepare to exchange gifts this holiday season, there is at least one thing nobody will be asking to receive – the influenza virus.
Unfortunately, the very contagious virus is already being passed around like Santa’s inventory come Christmas Eve, and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus has not only arrived earlier than normal this year, but potentially more aggressively.
The CDC reports that activity in the last two weeks indicates the flu season has arrived at its earliest point in nearly a decade.
“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad season, but only time will tell,” said Dr. Thomas Friedman, director of the CDC.
Higher-than-normal reports of the flu have come from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Tennessee, while widespread activity was reported in Alaska, Mississippi, New York, and South Carolina. To date, a total of 19 states have reported influenza activity, according to CDC health officials.
The good news for Arizonans is that the state has so far only been recognized as having sporadic outbreaks.
Also, in the nation’s favor, is the fact that 112 million people, or roughly a third of the country, have already received a vaccination.
Still, CDC officials are concerned with the early arrival, which has already caused two deaths in children, and are encouraging those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible. Along with young children, the elderly, pregnant women, or those with weak immune systems are also considered a high risk for more severe symptoms of the flu.
According to local Medical Doctor David Orringer, individuals with asthma can be added to that list.
“These individuals will see the usual fever, aches, and pains, and many of the respiratory issues that are going around this season,” he said. We are seeing a lot of upper respiratory infections, quite a few with bronchitis and increased phlegm, and quite often, these conditions can trigger an acute exacerbation of asthma due to the narrowing of respiratory pathways.”
Orringer added that people with allergies might also see increased symptoms and severity if infected with the virus.
For those individuals, Orringer encourages immunoCAP testing, a blood test which will determine which allergies are triggering, at which point immunotherapy can be implemented to reduce future reactions. Orringer offers both services at his office, Velo Med Urgent Care.
In total, about 24,000 people die each year from the flu virus.
The 2003-2004 year most compared to this year’s outbreak saw 48,000 deaths, the most in the 35 years prior. However, health officials are a little more optimistic about this year.
According to experts with the CDC, the key difference between then and now is increased vaccine availability, and more vaccines being received. This year’s vaccine is also said to be a better match for the flu virus than it was in 2003-2004.
The flu season usually peaks around January or February. Common symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches, and fatigue.
The flu spreads largely as a result of droplets made when people with the virus cough, sneeze or talk, and transmit those droplets to another individual. People more rarely get the virus by touching an infected surface and then making contact with their eyes, mouth, or nose.
For more information on the flu virus, visit www.cdc.gov.