Flu season is here, it has hit hard and it is one of the earliest seasons for influenza B.
“We have barely seen influenza A positives,” said Emma von Felden, infection control officer for Alomere Health. “This is definitely an influenza B start to the 2019-20 season. However, toward the end of the season, we could see it change to influenza A.”
During the past three flu seasons, the hospital has implemented a visitor restriction policy in either January or February. Due to the early start this winter, the restriction was put into place on Dec. 20.
Patients being tested for influenza have significantly increased this season compared to other seasons, von Felden said.
“Typically, we see a positive percentage rate in the 20-30% range,” she said. “This year, we’ve been seeing it at approximately 40%.”
Staff at the Minnesota Department of Health indicated to von Felden that the last predominantly influenza B season was more than 20 years ago, during the 1992-93 flu season.
Although it is not clear as to why influenza B hit first, von Felden said one thing that is clear is that people can still get the flu shot.
“Get vaccinated. It isn’t too late,” she said. “Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor visits each year.”
During the 2017-18 season, she said that the flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.2 million influenza cases, 3.2 million influenza-associated medical visits, 91,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 5,700 influenza-associated deaths.
She couldn’t stress enough the importance of getting the flu vaccine.
“Vaccine saves lives,” she stated.
To date, the age category getting hit the hardest is those from ages 5-14, although with the recent time off of school and holiday get-togethers, von Felden anticipates a shift from school-age kids to adults.
Outbreak minimal in Osakis schools, so far
Angie Baker, school nurse for the Osakis School District, said there were very few illnesses before the Christmas break. They did have a few cases of influenza B, but nothing out of the ordinary.
When school was back in session at the end of last week, Baker said there were several absences but it wasn’t just due to illness. Families were still traveling and out of town.
“I am not saying that we are not experiencing any illness, it just seems less than in the past. But the next couple of weeks will tell after all the people have celebrated the holidays,” said Baker.
Melissa Bright, a licensed school nurse with the Alexandria School District, said the district was just starting to see an uptick in influenza or influenza-like illnesses right before the Christmas break. The numbers were typical for what she’s seen in previous years.
Before the break, the district made two reports to the Minnesota Department of Health on influenza – one at Carlos Elementary and one at Voyager Elementary.
For tracking purposes, the school district attempts to find out the type of illness. If parents only indicate their child is “sick,” the district will often ask what the symptoms are so they know if it is the flu.
Besides the flu, the district also has seen some cases of strep throat and the stomach flu.
“We always hope the school break will help with numbers, but the reality is that during the holidays, people are traveling and possibly spreading and catching more germs,” said Bright.
The Brandon-Evansville School District didn’t have any cases of influenza B that Superintendent Don Peschel knew about. A few kids were out sick before break, but from what he called “normal flu stuff.”
“We really work on reminding kids to wash their hands frequently and we take extra precautions to disinfect areas, especially high-traffic areas such as bathrooms,” said Peschel.
Bright said that the Alexandria district asks parents to keep their children home if they have a fever of 100 degrees or more, and to stay home until the fever is gone for 24 hours without the use of any medications, such as Tylenol or Advil.
She also said students should stay home for 24 hours after their last bout of vomiting or diarrhea when they have the stomach flu.
“The difficulty is that kids are often spreading germs around before any symptoms even start,” said Bright. “Washing hands is the single best way to slow or stop the spread of germs. Hand sanitizer can also be helpful.”
Baker agreed, saying that the best thing parents can do is work with their children on hand-washing skills and covering coughs.
“But the biggest thing is not sending kids to school who are sick,” she said. “Our school policy is anything over a temp of 99.9 is considered a fever and the child needs to stay home for 24 hours after it breaks without the use of Tylenol or Ibuprofen.”
Baker said some parents give their children Tylenol or Ibuprofen in the morning, send their child to school and think they are fine.
“The problem with this is if there is a temperature, the body is fighting something and children then are spreading what they have and are more susceptible to any other virus that could be floating around,” said Baker.
“The biggest tip I have is if you or your family is not feeling well, stay home. This isn’t just staying home from school or work, but from going out to eat, shopping or visiting. Everyone’s immune system is different and a virus that could be a cold for one person could make someone with a weakened immune system very ill.”
High risk factors
Health and age factors can increase a person’s risk of getting serious complications from influenza, according to von Felden.
There are numerous factors, but here’s a look at some of them:
Asthma and other chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
Kidney or liver disorders
People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin or salicylate-containing medications
Adults 65 years of age or older and children younger than 2
With the flu, the onset of symptoms is often abrupt, whereas with a cold they come on gradually. A fever is common with the flu but rare with cold, as are chills. Colds don’t often produce the chills while with the flu it is a fairly common occurrence.
People with the flu will often feel fatigue and weakness, whereas people with a cold will only sometimes feel fatigued and weak.
Common symptoms of a cold are sneezing, a stuffy nose and sore throat. These symptoms don’t happen nearly as often with the flu. Chest discomfort and a cough are very common with the flu while they can be mild or moderate with a cold.
Headaches are also very common with the flu, but rare when you have a cold.
The best ways to prevent others from getting the flu is covering your mouth or nose with a tissue. Sneezing can go at a speed of 75 miles per hour and a distance of 6 feet, said von Felden. She stated again that the best way to help prevent getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine.
Washing hands often is also one of the best preventative measures as germs are often spread when a person touches something then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
Practice good health behaviors such as keeping your environment clean, getting plenty of rest, eating a balanced diet and not sharing food and beverages.