TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Another flu season is upon us and health experts across the nation are bracing for a particularly hard-hitting season. Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 80,000 deaths during the 2017 to 2018 flu season. The center estimates there have been 9.8 million to 11.4 million flu illnesses and 113,000 to 136,000 hospitalizations related to the flu since Oct. 1, 2018.
The high rates of hospitalizations and deaths associated with the flu is the reason public health urges the public to take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from seasonal flu.
The 60th Medical Group’s Allergy and Immunization Clinic at Travis Air Force Base launched a mass initiative in October 2018 to vaccinate all active duty members, high-risk patients and TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries.
While the flu vaccination is mandatory for those in uniform, it is recommended for everyone six months and older and strongly recommended for populations at high risk for complications from the influenza infection, including children under 5 years of age, people age 65 and older and pregnant women. For a complete list of high-risk populations, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/index.html.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a variety of influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and, in extreme instances, be fatal.
Flu and many other respiratory viruses are primarily spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Also, the flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours so a person may become infected by touching something with the virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
Most adults with influenza can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Children and some people with weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for up to seven days or longer. Flu symptoms can begin one to four days after the virus enters the body.
In addition to getting vaccinated, another effective way to protect yourself – even if you have already been contaminated or are showing flu-like symptoms – is with basic hygiene such as, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or use your arm sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Frequently clean and disinfect commonly touched objects such as door knobs and the telephone. Try to avoid close contact with individuals who are ill.
If you are sick with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, body aches, sore throat and a cough that lasts one to two weeks, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever disappears without using fever-reducing medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Unit commanders and supervisors can grant Airmen up to 24 hours in sick status if they are ill or have an injury that does not require a visit to a military treatment facility, according to Air Force Instruction 41-210, "TRICARE Operations and Patient Administration Functions," paragraph 4.14.6. After that time, the member must seek medical treatment and subsequent clinical examination.
If you are feeling ill, there are things you can do such as get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids. Avoid using alcohol and tobacco products and stay home to prevent spreading the illness. One sick Airmen could potentially spread illness through an entire unit and affect mission capability and readiness.
Most people will recover from the flu without complications, but seek medical attention if you have difficulty breathing, have shortness of breath, experience pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, have sudden dizziness or become confused, have severe or persistent vomiting, or if flu-like symptoms disappear but return with fever and cough.
Seek urgent medical care for a child who has fast breathing, trouble breathing or whose skin color turns bluish; if the child does not drink enough fluids, does not wake up or interact when awake or doesn’t want to be held. Also, seek medical help if the child has flu-like symptoms that improve but return with fever, severe cough or fever with a rash.
In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for an infant who is unable to eat, has trouble breathing, cries without tears or has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
Younger and older populations are more susceptible to complications and hospitalizations so keep an eye on them.
If you have questions about flu season, contact the Public Health Clinic at 707-423-5470. If you have any questions about the flu vaccine, contact the Allergy and Immunization Clinic at 707-423-5107.