Though last week was National Influenza Vaccination Week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu activity continues to increase across the country.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses, which can cause mild to severe illnesses and can sometimes lead to hospitalization or death.
The CDC said that those most vulnerable to the flu include children under 5 years old, adults 65 years old and older, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and possibly vomiting or diarrhea.
The CDC recommends that everyone six months old and older get vaccinated with a flu vaccine yearly to protect against the virus.
According to the CDC, “flu vaccination should begin soon after the flu vaccine is available, and ideally by October. However, getting vaccinated even later can be protective, as long as flu viruses are circulating. While seasonal influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later.”
A recent report by the CDC estimates that the influenza vaccine prevented 79,000 hospitalizations and 6.6 millions illnesses last season. It also estimates that 381,000 Americans were hospitalized from the flu last season.
According to the CDC, fewer than half of Americans have gotten vaccinated so far this season.
According to last week’s Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report prepared by the Influenza Division, Tennessee remains a state with only regional influenza activity as compares to other southern states like Alabama and Louisiana that have widespread activity.
Additionally, the “influenza-like illness (ILI) activity level indicator determined by data reported to ILINet for last week determined Tennessee to have “minimal” influenza-like illness activity. Close neighbors Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are the only four states in the country reported to have high activity.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, it is not uncommon for two to three children to die annually from the flu.
“We certainly need to get the flu vaccine to protect ourselves, but we also need to think about the health of others,” said TDH Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner. “Inexpensive, safe flu vaccines are readily available in many locations across our state, and it only takes a few minutes for most people to get vaccinated. The vaccine is available by shot or nasal spray at county health departments, along with many pharmacies and doctors’ offices.”
“It takes about two weeks to be protected after you get the flu vaccine, so it’s best not to put off getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “November and December are when we typically begin to see increased numbers of flu cases, and people sick with the flu can spread the virus at family gatherings over the holidays and during their holiday travel. Nationally, thousands of people die from influenza each year.”
The health department also went on to say that after receiving the flu vaccination, it is still important to practice other good health habits to protect yourself from the flu and other winter viruses and to prevent spreading them to others if you do get sick.
These habits include frequent hand washing with soapy water or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.
If possible, those who are sick should stay home to prevent spreading illness to coworkers, friends and others.