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Flu Hospitalizations are Rising Fast. Here's How to Save Yourself.

Doctors explain what to know about flu season and how to avoid getting sick.

Health officials have been warning the public for weeks that this winter is going to be challenging due to an uptick of influenza cases and so far they've been right. "The flu is a rapidly and easily spread viral respiratory disease. This season the flu has been particularly brutal in terms of numbers of patients it is affecting," Nima Majlesi, DO, Director of Medical Toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital tells us.  As three viruses spread quickly and hospitalization rates are increasing across the country, experts are encouraging people to take what's happening seriously. "We must not forget we are entering the respiratory season–it's called respiratory season because we see a greater number of respiratory infections, "Javeed Siddiqui MD/MPH, Infectious Disease Specialist , Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U says. He adds, "There's a misconception that SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 has disappeared, it absolutely has not disappeared. In addition we are seeing cases of influenza and we are seeing a significant number of cases of RSV in children. So the existence of these viruses occurring at the same time is absolutely a reason for concern." Taking safety precautions is key to staying healthy and with a rough flu season ahead, the medical community is urging people to take care of themselves. "Hospitals struggle to stay below capacity, and many patients fall ill from RSV, flu and COVID," Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 20 years of direct patient care experience says. "Taking steps such as masking, hand washing and avoiding unnecessary exposure means an extra bed in the hospital that could be used for more critical illnesses." With so much sickness circulating at once, it might not seem possible to avoid it, but there are ways to lower the risk of catching one or all of the viruses. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about this flu season and how to prevent getting sick. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About This Flu Season

woman with cold and flu bad symptoms

Dr. Kate Burke, VP, Senior Medical Advisor for PatientsLikeMe says, "When it comes to the flu, individuals should know that anyone can get it – even healthy people – and serious problems related to flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people living with certain chronic conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years. The flu is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and in some cases even death. Every flu season is different and how it affects individuals varies.  During typical flu seasons, millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized, and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help reduce the risk of getting flu and any of its potentially serious complications. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death. While some people who get a flu vaccine may still get sick with influenza, flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness."


Hospitals are Stressed Out


Dr. Majlesi says, "Currently our emergency departments are seeing the highest numbers of patients per day in history.  That's right.  HISTORY.  We have broken records over the past few weeks for the number of patients we are seeing each day.   This is not just due to influenza, but RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and a resurgence of COVID-19 are both contributing to these massive surges of patients.  The best thing patients can do to help is to understand the signs and symptoms of viral respiratory infections and stay home until they are not contagious.  The pneumonic is a simple way to remember that you might have one of these viruses.  Vaccination to the flu in addition to using good hand washing hygiene and prevention are the best ways to prevent spread as well as severe outcomes from the flu.

F – Fever

A- Aches

C- Cough and congestion

T- Temperature > 100.5"


The Flu Can Cause Severe Illness

Portrait of casual 50s mature Asian man heartburn, pressing on chest with painful expression, sitting on sofa at home, medicines and water on table.

Dr. Burke states, "The symptoms of Covid-19 and the flu can be similar and it's important for consumers to note both the similarities and differences between the two viruses. The flu can mean a few days of feeling bad and missing work, or it can result in more serious illness. Complications of the flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes." Dr. Majlesi says, "Extremes of age tend to be at highest risk for these diseases.  Also, those with underlying lung disease tend to be particularly affected.  Also those with weakened immune systems tend to have more severe outcomes." Dr. Evelyn Huang, an emergency medicine resident physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital says, The flu is a respiratory illness and is typically spread through respiratory droplets (like coughs or sneezes). Symptoms can include fevers, cough, runny nose, body aches, and fatigue. A variety of symptoms ranging from difficulty breathing and chest pain or symptoms such as a cough and fevers that are not going away. Flu can also cause complications such as pneumonia and worsening of underlying medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure or asthma. Symptoms can be severe and if anyone has any medical concerns, they should be talking to a healthcare provider."


How to Get Over the Flu Quickly

woman holding white pills

Nobody wants to get sick, but if you do catch the flu,  Dr. Majlesi explains how to get over it as soon as possible. "The first 3-4 days of illness are the most contagious time periods, though some patients may be contagious for longer depending on their underlying immune systems. Rest and hydration are key.  Some patients may be good candidates for oseltamivir though the data for this is extremely poor.  The data currently for this medication is that when taken in the first 48 hours, it may reduce the duration of illness by half a day.  However, as per the CDC: "Antiviral treatment is recommended as early as possible for any patient with confirmed or suspected influenza who: is hospitalized;* has severe, complicated, or progressive illness;* or is at higher risk for influenza complications." There may be some decent evidence for the use of oseltamivir in hospitalized patients with severe flu.  In addition, there may be some evidence of decreased viral shedding in those patients as well.  The evidence is weak but present in some studies."


How to Avoid the Flu

Beautiful family in medical masks against coronavirus at home

Dr. Majlesi says, "Lock yourself in your house, become a hermit and never speak to anyone again – Just Kidding!! Practicing good hand hygiene, wearing a mask, and getting vaccinated for the flu each year will help you to avoid catching the flu virus." Dr. Burke adds, "The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu is to get a flu vaccine every flu season. Flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can lead to serious illness, hospitalization, or even death and the CDC recommends everyone six months and older get an annual flu vaccine." Dr. Huang emphasizes, "Get vaccinated! Other things to help include good hand hygiene, wearing a mask, avoiding large group gatherings, and isolating when feeling ill or after getting exposed to the flu." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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