Due to the overwhelming number of flu cases, it’s been a hectic time for doctors’ offices, hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent-care centers across Maricopa County and around the nation.
In Maricopa County alone, more than 7,000 cases have been reported versus over 500 this time last year, according to county public health figures. Unfortunately, that number is likely an undercount because it represents only lab-confirmed cases.
Our risk of developing complications from the flu increases as we get older because our ability to fight off illnesses weakens as we age. Each year, up to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people 65 years and older. These numbers drive home the importance of older adults getting the flu shot.
If you have not gotten a flu shot, go out and get one right away. The flu season peaks in February and may continue as late as May. A flu shot provides protection for not only the person receiving it — but also for family members, co-workers and others who may be in contact with that person. Seniors should ask their doctor for Fluzone, a high-dose flu vaccine that’s formulated to counter the factors that put older adults at greater risk from the flu.
People experiencing flu symptoms should call their primary care physician, visit an urgent-care clinic or make arrangements for a virtual visit to see a doctor on a mobile device or computer. It’s important to stress that emergency rooms should be reserved for medical emergencies. Often a primary-care physician will suggest antiviral drugs (such as oseltamivir, generic Tamiflu) as soon as possible.
Flu causes the greatest concern when it hits the very young, seniors or people with co-existing medical conditions. Pregnant women and those who have compromised immune systems are also at risk of serious flu complications.
If you are sick with the flu, stay home to prevent spreading the virus to others. Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. That means a person, before they know they are sick, may be able to pass on the flu to someone else. Typical flu symptoms include aches and pains, headache and a persistent cough.
Other preventive measures are common-sense approaches: wash hands regularly, and remember to cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing. Did you know that a sneeze ejects 100,000 viral particles into the air that can travel up to 200 feet?
But perhaps it’s best to close with the reminder that it is not too late to get a flu shot. And that a convenient way to search for flu vaccine providers is by visiting the Flu Vaccine Finder at www.cdc.gov/flu.
Dr. Cary Schnitzer is the Medical Director for OptumCare Arizona, directing population health initiatives.