February is the peak season for the influenza virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most people believe the virus is winding down as the weather begins to warm up, but this is not the case. This is actually the time to stay the most vigilant, as the cold weather keeps people inside and in close proximity to one another, creating more opportunities for the virus to spread through communities. Dr. Cameual Wright, the medical director at CareSource, a nonprofit health plan, has provided important information regarding the flu in the U.S.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory infection that can have mild or severe symptoms. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue. Symptoms of the flu are easily confused with cold symptoms, but cold symptoms are much milder, and the cold normally has no serious side effects. Left untreated, influenza can lead to other infections in the sinuses and lungs, resulting in sinus infections, bronchitis or pneumonia. All of these infections can be dangerous, especially for those who are immunocompromised such as young children, pregnant women and adults older than 65.
Despite now being the time when the flu spreads, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been catching global media attention, causing many Americans to become increasingly concerned. COVID-19 originated in China, and the CDC has kept close tabs on anyone who may be displaying symptoms in the U.S. According to HCP Live, the main difference between COVID-19 and influenza is it does not have a trackable mutation pattern. Influenza mutations are trackable, but scientists have not yet determined how COVID-19 will mutate, which could result in an outbreak. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and it is spread via respiratory droplets.
In the U.S., the influenza virus is still much more of a concern. While the COVID-19 has a higher death rate in China, fewer people will be infected, and more people will be infected with the influenza virus. The CDC estimates that from October 2019 until this February, there have been at least 14,000 to 36,000 deaths related to influenza.
Specifically, the flu has been hitting children and young adults hard this year. Young children are more at risk than other age groups. This could be due to the fact that they do not have fully developed immune systems or the hygiene skills of adults. Their proximity to one another in school also makes it easier for the virus to spread. The single best way for children or adults to avoid getting influenza is by getting a flu vaccine. It’s still not too late to do so, as flu season won’t be finished until closer to April.
It is a common misconception that the flu vaccine can cause the flu. The CDC has dismissed this myth. The vaccine is perfectly safe for infants six months and older and all other children and adults. The flu vaccine is effective in preventing the contraction of the virus, but the CDC lists additional ways to stay healthy. These include avoiding close contact with those who are already sick, practicing good hand hygiene, staying home if you are feeling ill, being respectful by covering your mouth and nose and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
If you are displaying symptoms that may be caused by the flu, stay home and seek immediate medical attention. Certain medications can shorten the course of the illness if you start early. According to the CDC, it is especially important for demographics with weakened immune systems to see their healthcare providers as soon as possible if they suspect they contracted the flu.
CareSource pays for members to receive flu vaccinations to keep them as healthy as possible. It also provides information about influenza through its website and member mailings. In addition to keeping its members updated, representatives are always available to help coordinate care or refer individuals to a primary care provider.
Dr. Cameual Wright is medical director of CareSource. CareSource, headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, is a nonprofit health coverage provider.