The Oklahoma State Department of Health releases a weekly report throughout the 2019-2020 influenza season until it ends the third week of May 2020 and this week’s report saw an increase of 131 in the statewide number of new hospitalizations. There have been five influenza-related hospitalizations in Logan County between Sept. 1 and Dec. 28 of 2019. What makes this flu season different is that test results are overwhelmingly positive for influenza B as opposed to influenza A like the previous two seasons.
“There’s usually two types of flu we come across and that’s type A and B. Sometimes people get A and B, sometimes people just get flu A or flu B,” Angela Gray, the Infection Prevention Specialist at Mercy Health Systems, said. “Flu B is typically more prominent in the later part of the season but this year our flu B is more prominent in the winter months and earlier part of the season.”
The good news is that flu prevention can be as simple as washing your hands. Angela Gray, the Infection Prevention Specialist at Mercy Health Systems, said that regular hand washing is one of the best ways to protect against the flu, due to the fact that flu viruses can live on surfaces for a little bit, and when someone comes in contact with a contaminated surface then rubs their eye or touches their mouth—that’s how infection can happen.
Gray said that another factor to hand hygiene and overall prevention is to cover all coughs and sneezes but to avoid using hands as the shields. The best method is to cough or sneeze into the elbow, kind of like a vampire would do, because people typically do not wash their hands immediately after coughing or sneezing.
“We need to cover those coughs but not with our hands,” Gray said. “We need to cough or sneeze into our elbows because typically when people cough or sneeze into their hands, they don’t turn around and go wash their hands. Then they go touch things and the things that they touch, what we call fomites, harbor those viruses for the next person to come by and touch.”
As basic as it may sound, it is also important to differentiate between cold and flu symptoms. Gray said that colds have a gradual onset whereas the flu is more abrupt. When it comes to identifying the difference, cold symptoms can include a runny nose, body aches, sneeze, cough, sore throat but the flu is usually accompanied by a fever, chills, aches, chest discomfort from cough and headache.
For those who haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, it is not too late. Gray said in the hospital their flu season begins in October and that’s when they start administering shots to patients and staff. It takes about two weeks for that to take effect. Since the season goes through the end of March, if someone gets their flu shot in January or February, it will still help them because they may not have been in contact with someone who had the flu, so that will help them later on.
For those who haven’t gotten a flu shot yet out of fear it will cause or increase the likelihood of catching the flu, Gray said that isn’t how the shot works because it does not contain the live flu virus. The flu shot actually teaches our bodies to produce antibodies against that virus.
“It’s not a virus that will actually give you that illness. It’s hard to explain that to people who say they’ve gotten the flu after getting the shot and that it won’t do any good. It really, really does. We base our flu vaccinations off of the previous year and then places like Australia. We see what they’re getting and it usually goes, depending on how it crosses the nation, Australia gets it before we do. We’ve seen them have a really harsh and hard flu season early and they’ve had several deaths really early on in their flu season.”
For more information about the current flu season, prevention and vaccinations, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov and don’t forget to wash your hands.