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5 Life-Saving Tips Doctors Want You to Know About the Flu as Cases Rise

Doctors share five things to know about this year's flu season. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Flu season has been dominating headlines for weeks now and with good reason. Many health officials predicted a spike in cases and it's happening already even though winter hasn't officially started. "Influenza has been on the rise early this season compared to previous ones and there is a concern as we have not seen much influenza in the last couple of years," John Mourani, MD Medical Director of Infectious Disease Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center tells us. 

With cases up, hospitalization rates have increased too, which is putting strain on the healthcare system. Many cities are reporting their hospitals are at capacity and the staff is feeling the stress. MyNorthwest reports, "Tony Woodward, Seattle Children's Hospital's Medical Director of Emergency Medicine, said they are operating at "100% capacity almost 24 hours a day and in the evenings up to 300% capacity." Woodward said, "It's a huge volume, huge surges, the viruses, the triple-demic as we've talked about, that's really a twin-demic at the moment with the flu and RSV,"  "[There's] a lack of availability in the hospitals which are full, and a lack of availability in the communities which are full, compounded by the staffing crisis in all those places, has really led to a spot where the [emergency department] is the last resort for many of these patients.

Doctors across the country are advising everyone to take safety precautions like getting a flu shot, which many people have not done. Ashesh Gandhi, PharmD, Regional Head of Medical Affairs, Americas, at CSL Seqirus tells us, "In addition to the early warning signs, we are seeing lower levels of seasonal flu vaccination at this point in the year. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases survey that measures consumer intent to receive a flu vaccine, only 49% of people said they plan to get vaccinated against the flu this season, and the numbers are actually much lower than that to date, with significantly fewer people being vaccinated at this point in the season compared to the past two years." 

Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about the flu this season and what common symptoms are sending people to the ER. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The Flu is Deadly, but Mortality Rates Differ Every Year

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Dr. Mourani says, "In general, Every year 3-11 % of the population get influenza. So probably immunity is lower than usual but not necessarily would be deadlier. Mortality rates differ from year to a year."

 Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital explains, "We have seen an increase in the number of flu cases earlier than we have seen in the past which is concerning. Right now, it's really hard to determine how deadly this season will be."   

Dr. Mark Fischer, Regional Medical Director at International SOS tells us, "

According to the CDC, there's been 1,300 deaths caused by the flu so far this season. This year's flu season came earlier than we're used to and has been proven to be more severe than we've seen in recent years. It remains too early in the flu season to determine if this year will be more deadly. It is essential to stay up to date with all of the recommended vaccinations."  


This is When You're Most Contagious

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Dr. Curry-Winchell explains, "You are most likely to transmit the flu virus in the first three to four days after your symptoms have started. The best piece of advice is to stay home if you're feeling sick at all." Dr. Mourani says, "The flu is most contagious in the first 3-4 days of symptoms but can be from 1 day before symptoms and up to 7 days."

Dr. Fischer adds, "Individuals who contract the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after feeling ill. While the flu is more likely to spread during that period, those who have the flu are still considered contagious until their symptoms go away. This is because everyone's immune system works to protect the body at different speeds, and it depends on the person. Most people will be symptomatic for about a week, but it could be longer for children or those who are immunocompromised. Most individuals with influenza managed as an outpatient remain contagious until they don't have a fever for at least 24 without the use of fever reducing medications."


Some People are at Greater Risk of Dying from the Flu


According to Dr. Mourani, "Adults 65 and older and with comorbidities, like chronic lung and heart diseases and compromised immune systems, are at higher risk for complications, but also pregnant women and young kids younger than 5 years of age are also at risk. Vaccination is the best approach to protect the individual from severe disease, but transmissions can still occur." 

Dr. Jacob Hascalovici MD, PhD Clearing Chief Medical Officer says, "People with compromised immune systems and those over 65 are often among those most at risk of dying from flu, though flu patterns and which populations are most affected can change from year to year. Heightened risk often occurs if someone has a chronic health condition like heart disease or a weakened immune system, since the body is then under more stress and is less able to fight off flu."


The Flu Spreads Quickly and Here's Why

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Dr. Hascalovici tells us, "The flu is contagious because it's not a single virus – flu can actually be caused by multiple viruses or different viral strains. These viruses can mutate relatively quickly, meaning a particular vaccine may not protect against a freshly mutated strain. That said, it's still worth getting the flu vaccine, as it can protect against multiple strains and can offer partial protection for still others." 

According to Dr. Fischer, "Vaccine effectiveness varies each year and also depends on the health and age of the person receiving it. The flu is so contagious because there are different strains every year, and in each community, making the effectiveness of the vaccine dependent on how well it matches the current strain spreading within your location."


The Flu is No Joke! These Symptoms are Sending People to the ER

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Dr. Fishcer says, "Some of the more common flu symptoms include fever, chills, aches, cough, sore throat, fatigue, and headaches. While symptoms typically ease up after a few days, some may need to seek medical attention earlier with the onset of symptoms. You should seek medical attention if you begin to experience unusual or severe symptoms such as trouble breathing, chest pain, severe dehydration or severe muscle pain. There are antiviral treatments for priority groups with Influenza. Medical professionals can decide on treatment regimens based on their clinical considerations."

Dr. Hascalovici says, "Flu is often fast, meaning you may feel it "hit" all of a sudden. Common symptoms include muscular aches, an elevated temperature, coughing, a sore throat, a runny nose, headaches, and a pronounced feeling of tiredness. If you can't breathe well, feel pain in your torso, get dizzy, have really bad muscular pain, feel really tired or weak, or feel as though any chronic conditions you may have are getting worse, it could be time to get medical attention."

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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