This year’s flu season may finally be leveling off, federal health officials declared Friday. But we’re not out of the woods yet.
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that the season still has several weeks to go as the rate of hospitalizations has hit the highest levels since 2010.
CDC figures indicated the flu has claimed the lives of 53 children this year, hospitals in 43 states are still reporting large numbers of influenza patients, and one of every 13 visits to the doctor over the last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the virus.
“This season is a somber reminder of why flu is one of the nation’s greatest public health challenges,” acting CDC director Dr. Anne Schuchat said in a press briefing. “This week, we have seen increased [influenza-like illness] activity, more hospitalizations and more flu-associated deaths in children and adults.”
Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) at the CDC, said this season has presented an unusual pattern for the flu in the United States. Half of pediatric influenza deaths occurred in children who had no underlying medical condition.
So what should you do if you contract the virus?
Registered nurse Melissa Velez tells Newsmax Health that a trip to the emergency room is warranted if you, a loved one, or your child feel like you are unable to breathe normally, can’t eat, or have a fever that does not go down with medication.
Otherwise, it’s important to treat the symptoms, wait it out, and avoid contact with others as much as possible, experts say.
“The most important thing is to stay home, rest and stay hydrated. Drink plenty of clear fluids to prevent dehydration and avoid close contact with others,” says Velez. She advises staying home from work or school and not returning until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours.
Holistic health coach Deanna Durso echoes Velez’s sentiments on the importance of hydration, telling Newsmax Health it’s one of the most important aspects of fighting off the flu.
“Drinking enough water enables our organs to work more efficiently. Water helps you absorb the nutrients from your food and flush out inflammatory toxins. A hydrated body is more likely to get a restful night sleep, which has been linked to disease prevention,” Durso tells Newsmax Health.
Durso, founder of hydrategirl.com, says you should drink more water and clear liquids than usual — and less of everything else — to fight the flu.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends clear liquids like water, broth, or sports drinks. If you are too ill to consume these beverages, try sipping them through a straw or sucking on small ice cubes or ice pops.
Experts also suggest lots of rest to fight the flu, but advise not lying flat on your back, which can make it harder to clear your lungs and the position can lead to increased coughing fits. Velez suggests lying propped up with a few pillows instead.
She adds that grandma’s wisdom about chicken noodle soup being a panacea may be true, but alcohol should be avoided. It can contribute to dehydration and, although it can make you sleepy, it doesn’t lead to quality REM sleep. She says alcohol will likely make you feel worse.
Velez says the best medication for the flu, other than Tamiflu (which should be taken within the first 48 hours that symptoms emerge), is an over-the-counter fever reducer like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Although suitable for adults, these medications are not advised for use in children under age 2.
She also suggests a lukewarm bath or a cool washcloth to lower a fever, but warns that a cold bath or shower can actually make a fever worse.
Although this season’s flu vaccine may not be as effective against the H3N2 strain of flu, Velez still recommends it for anyone who hasn’t yet had one, noting it’s not too late.
The CDC says the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is to get a flu shot, noting flu season typically doesn’t end until late March or later.
“The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from flu, including older people, very young children, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications,” Velez notes.
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