Health

The Flu Season Has Weeks To Go

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

This season, flu activity has been elevated for nine consecutive weeks. To put that into perspective, the average duration of a flu season in the past five seasons has been around sixteen weeks with the longest being twenty weeks. By this measure, we are about halfway there this season. I interviewed Dr. Rahul Sharma, Emergency Physician in Chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center (NYPH-WC) about New York City’s experience with influenza this year. He reported that there has been a record number of influenza cases in New York City and that emergency departments across the city have been overwhelmed.  According to Dr. Sharma, this season has seen the highest number of influenza cases since 2009 at NYPH-WC with its emergency department going into surge mode several times last week.

Influenza, or the the “flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by an airborne virus. Influenza viruses are divided into four types: A, B, C and D. Type A and B viruses are the most serious and are responsible for the flu epidemics experienced nearly every winter.  A typical season mixes two Type A strains — H1N1 and H3N2, and two Type B strains — Victoria and Yamagata. On Friday, January 26, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced:

“Most people with influenza are being infected with the H3N2 influenza virus. And in seasons where H3N2 is the main cause of influenza, we see more cases, more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more deaths, especially among older people. Flu activity has now stayed at the same level for 3 weeks in a row, with 49 states reporting widespread activity, each week, for 3 weeks. If we look at what is happening at doctor’s offices and emergency departments we are clearly seeing a lot of people going to see the doctor or being seen in urgent care settings. The number of people going in to see a doctor for influenza-like-illness increased again this week, rising to 6.6%; that means that 6.6% of all people coming into the clinics and emergency departments had influenza-like illness. This is the highest level of activity recorded since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which peaked at 7.7%.”

IS IT A COLD OR THE FLU?

There are differences between “just a bad cold” and the “flu.” Unlike a cold, the flu usually comes on suddenly.  Symptoms can be moderate to severe and typically include fever, chills, nonproductive cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headache and fatigue. Some who get the flu may also experience vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults. According to the CDC, fever is common but does not always accompany the flu. Fever and body aches usually last three to five  days, but the cough and fatigue may last up to two weeks or longer. Complications can be serious and include pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for complications.  Patients suspected of influenza infection who are seen by a healthcare provider can be tested with a simple nasal swab with a turn around time for diagnosis of about two hours.  According to Dr. Sharma, “for the week ending Jan 20th at the NYPH- WC emergency department, there was a preponderance of  Influenza Type A H3N2 documented from nasal swab tests.”

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  • Roz Warren February 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Glad I got my flu shot.

    Reply