First it was coughing. The next morning, it was fever. Symptoms only got worse from there. By the time I made my way to my doctor on call a day later, my body temperature had soared to 103.8!
Early December, I was diagnosed with the flu – just as one of the worst influenza seasons in recent memory was beginning.
A week into my recovery, I was diagnosed with bronchitis, a complication that kicked off another round of coughing and congestion. Even though I don’t have asthma, my doctor prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler in case my airways became inflamed and I had difficulty breathing.
Turns out my flu fight would become all too common in the weeks ahead.
Through mid-January, 47 states had reported widespread influenza. New York state and the city of Boston declared public health emergencies as flu cases flooded ERs.
The predominant strain this year is H3N2, a virus that has been associated in the past with more severe flu seasons. It’s highly contagious from the first day of symptoms to 5-10 days later. Symptoms usually start with a cough and then include headaches, achiness and fever.
The strain is so aggressive that some people who received the flu vaccine experienced symptoms (even after the two weeks it generally takes for full protection).
This year’s influenza vaccine contains about 90 percent of all circulating flu viruses, including H3N2, H1N1 and a B virus, according to Tom Frieden, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
“Those are the three most common strains and the current vaccines have only three,” Dr. Frieden says. “So the pick of vaccine strains was as good as could have been this year. The other 10 percent are a second influenza B.”
The good news? In the next 1-2 years, the CDC expects manufacturers to produce a flu vaccine that has space for four different flu viruses.
Aside from vaccination, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself and your family from the flu, Dr. Frieden says.
“Be sure to cover your cough and sneeze and stay home if you’re sick with cough and fever,” Dr. Frieden said. “Keep your children home from school if they’re sick with cough and fever. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water is very important. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to minimize the spread of germs.
“And if you get sick with flu-like illness, if you have fever and cough, it’s very important that you contact your doctor because early treatment with antiviral medications such as Tamiflu® can reduce the severity of illness.”
Asthma And Flu? Here’s What to Do…
People with asthma are at high risk for flu complications, including pneumonia. Influenza can further inflame airways and lungs and trigger a worsening of asthma. The CDC offers these tips:
- Everyone with asthma 6 months or older should get the flu vaccine. These are offered in doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies, among other places. People with asthma should get the flu shot made with the inactivated flu virus. They should not receive the nasal spray “FluMist®” vaccine.
- Children, adults over 65 and people who have asthma should get the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine can be given at the same time as the influenza vaccine. (Read more on the pneumonia shot from Dr. Martha White on page 6!)
- Follow your updated, written Asthma Action Plan so that you’re on top of your asthma symptoms should you come down with the flu.
- If you do get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor and take prescription antiviral medications such as Tamiflu®. (People with asthma should not use Relenza®, another antiviral medication, because there is a risk it may cause wheezing.)
- In addition to covering your cough and sneeze and washing hands regularly, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, school and work and devices such as cellphones and computer keyboards.