Take care, be on the lookout for flu and ‘flumps’

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — According to the New Jersey Department of Health, there is a lot of influenza activity in every region of the state. While the number of cases is typical for this time of the year during a flu season, they are finding that the flu strain, A H3N2 is the predominant influenza virus, a press release from the Maplewood Health Department said. As would be expected in an A H3N2 predominant flu season, emergency department visits and hospital admissions associated with influenza-like illness have been high and is associated with more severe illness, especially among people older than 65 years and children. Seek medical care quickly if you have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion or severe vomiting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke.

For children, be on the lookout for fast breathing or trouble breathing, blue color to the skin, not drinking enough fluids, not waking or interacting, and not wanting to be held. Also be watchful for a fever with a rash or if flu symptoms get better but then return with a fever and a worsening cough. All of these symptoms could signal a serious medical condition that requires medical attention.

An interesting occurrence also occurs with the A H3N2 flu virus: acute parotitis. Acute parotitis is recent swelling of one or both of the salivary glands. Parotitis is usually associated with the viral infection, mumps. Persons may experience acute parotitis after an influenza illness but it is not the mumps. According to the CDC, while still rare, influenza-associated parotitis appears to occur more often after infection with influenza Type A viruses.

New Jersey is also seeing a large amount of influenza strain Type B. While it is difficult to predict when a flu season will end, the influenza Type B strain has been observed to extend the flu season and can cause illness into May.

The takeaway message from the NJDOH is that it is not too late to get vaccinated. The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent flu illness and serious flu complications, including those that can result in hospitalization, especially for seniors and young children. Even if the flu vaccine is 30 percent to 60 percent effective, flu vaccination prevents millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of flu-related hospitalizations each year.

In addition to an annual flu vaccine, there are everyday steps that people can take to avoid the flu and other respiratory illnesses:

  • Cover coughs and sneeze with a tissue or the elbow of your sleeve instead of your hand.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often throughout the day. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. When using a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucets and to open the exit door.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective against influenza; however, they are not a replacement for handwashing.
  • Keep sick people away from healthy people by avoiding crowds, keeping sick children home from school and staying home when you are sick. Sick people should stay home until they are fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. People are most contagious with the flu during the time that they have a fever.

If someone gets the flu, there are self-care measures that can be taken to help get through the illness, including:

  • Contact a health care provider for antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu. Antiviral medications work best when started within two days of getting sick.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Get lots of rest.
  • For fever and aches, take over-the-counter pain relievers. Be sure NEVER to give aspirin to children or teenagers who have a fever and flu-like symptoms.
  • Gargle with salt water to soothe a sore throat.