Don't become a victim

Flu season is far from over

Posted: February 6, 2018 at 2:23 a.m.

Everybody knows somebody--maybe more than one somebody--who's caught the flu this season. No wonder. The flu season is the worst in nearly a decade.

Over 14,000 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of flu from Oct. 1 through Jan. 27 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That doesn't count those who battle the symptoms on their own.

The rate of people seeking care rivals that of the swine-flu pandemic of 2009. Kids are especially vulnerable, as are baby boomers, according to CDC officials, although nobody knows why.

Since the calendar is edging into February and spring will arrive soon, some who are flu-free are getting smug about it, thinking that the end of the season is probably in sight.

Guess again. According to the Washington Post, the length and severity of a flu season is hard to predict. Arkansas Department of Health Department director Nathaniel Smith says it's only about one-third of the way over.

For those who blissfully live under rocks, flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, but can also turn deadly. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches, fatigue, and headaches.

It's sneaky, too. Adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body.

What to do? Easy. Wash your hands a lot, especially after encountering anyone who has or might have the flu.

Next: Get a flu shot. Says who? Our governor, for starters. "I'm very concerned about the impact," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. "It's very severe compared to previous years, and it's still relatively early." Vaccinations can reduce flu illnesses, doctors' visits, and missed work and school, as well as prevent costly and scary flu-related hospitalizations.

And although the vaccine doesn't seem to be as effective as it has in previous years, it's still worth being vaccinated. "It's high time to do so," said Health Department director Smith, adding that two-thirds of flu deaths typically come after the peak of flu season.

It's not too late. The CDC recommends an injectable flu vaccine for everyone 6 months or older as soon as possible because the body takes about two weeks to produce a full immune response.

Where to go? Just about anywhere. The federal 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover flu shots with no charge to the patient. The state Health Department's county offices also offer the shots at no charge to the uninsured. Find out when and where by checking out the "local health units by region" webpage at healthy.arkansas.gov.

As of Monday, 122 influenza-related deaths--including two children--have been reported in Arkansas this season. Let's stay healthy and work together to keep that number from increasing.

Editorial on 02/06/2018