Preparing for 2019-2020 flu season

In this 2017 file photo, Brian Abbott receives flu shot from Chesapeake College student Lakishia Hardy.

EASTON — Although there are no confirmed cases of the flu in Easton or in Maryland, it is important to keep a close eye on flu season as it comes in the fall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity often begins to increase in October and November; flu activity peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May.

“This is caused by a virus that mutates rapidly, and that is why we have different viruses each year and different vaccines, also,” Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley said. “That is also why we have more than one virus used to make the vaccine for each year. Every year, the vaccine is developed based on what viruses have been prominent over the past year.”

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can be fatal.

The flu and the cold are two separate forms of illnesses, with the flu coming on suddenly. Symptoms for the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

A 2018 CDC study examined the percentage of the U.S. population that was infected with the flu using two methods. It was found that both methods carried the same findings, including that, on average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu each season, with a range of between 3% and 11%, depending on the season.

“What causes the spreading of the infection is close contact with people infected. This virus is very contagious,” Wadley said. “Coughing and sneezing produces droplets in the air that can infected other people close by. The infection will often spread throughout the family and also a classroom.”

Wadley said the best tips for preventing the flu include:

• Stay at home when symptoms, including fever, congestion, cough, headaches and muscle aches, are visible.

• Teach family members to cover their mouths when coughing; cough into your bent arm to keep the virus from getting into the air and from contaminating one’s hands, which can spread the virus.

• Frequent hand washing or sanitizer use is good during flu season and when handling objects handled by others.

• Wiping down door knobs and surfaces when a family member has the flu can help decrease the spread.

• When many cases have been reported in the community, it is best to avoid crowds when possible.

Wadley said the flu shot enhances the prevention of cases of influenza, “even though it is not as highly effective as many childhood vaccines that can protect up to 97% and 99% that get the vaccine. But for the very young, the elderly and others with chronic conditions that often have a more severe infection and higher death rates, the vaccine can decrease the risk of having a severe infection and death.”

People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins, according to the CDC. Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.

The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days, but it can range from about one to four days.

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