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Late season flu: A phantom menace

With over 6 million Americans hit by the flu so far this season, what can people do to protect themselves during the early spring when the flu no longer is top-of-mind.

After months of frigid temperatures and damp weather people across Connecticut are understandably looking forward to spring. While thoughts may be focused on rising temperatures and blooming flowers, Northeast Medical Group physicians caution not to pack up flu prevention with the winter coats.

“We’re talking about standing vigilant against the flu, even in the spring,” said Brian Williams, MD, a family medicine specialist in Mystic with Northeast Medical Group. “Cover your cough, wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home. People think, that they can power through the symptoms and go to work or school, but I would strongly advise against that.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu season in the United States begins in October and runs into May, and while the season peaks in February, doctors warn that April and May cases can be especially harsh because we don’t expect them.

“The severity of the symptoms depends on the strain of flu you get,” Dr. Williams said. “I wouldn’t say that late season flu is more severe, but I would say that people may not seek treatment because they’re not suspecting influenza once the seasons change.”

He reminds patients that flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny Nose
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Headache

“The big differentiator is the fever,” Dr. Williams said. “There are a lot of overlapping symptoms, but if you have a fever you are more than likely to have the flu.”

Whether it’s the dead of winter or the onset of spring medical experts agree that the flu virus is primarily spread via droplets produced when infected people speak, sneeze or cough. These contaminated droplets then make their way into the noses and mouths of others who are in close proximity. While it is possible to get flu by touching an object that has flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth or nose, this means of infection is much less common.

“I think it’s important for people to know that one flu shot is considered sufficient coverage for the whole flu season,” Dr. Williams said. “October is the optimal time to get the shot, but you should take any opportunity to get it, and that includes March and April if you didn’t receive it earlier in the season.”

Dr. Williams further explains that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest late season flu shots can reduce a person’s chance of getting the flu while at the same time reducing the severity and duration of the flu for those that get it. “We’re still giving the flu shot to patients coming into our office,” he added.

Beyond the flu shot, the CDC recommends several everyday preventive actions:

  • Avoid people who are sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Wash hands frequently

Additionally, Dr. Williams suggests anti-viral medications, which can hinder and sometimes prevent people from contracting a virus.

“Prophylactic anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu can be a big help with flu prevention,” Dr. Williams said. “These drugs greatly reduce the risk of getting influenza for parents or anyone else who has unavoidable contact with a flu patient.”

These tips can help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses, like flu, but it is also important to remember that you may be able to pass on flu to someone else before you even suspect that you are sick. People infected with flu are most contagious during the first three to four days after the start of their illness. It is also possible for otherwise healthy adults to infect others in as little as one day before their own symptoms develop. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.

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