This year’s flu outbreak is nothing to sneeze at.
Forty-seven states, including Tennessee, have reported widespread influenza activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“We are in the midst of widespread influenza activity in our area,” said McMinnville physician Dr. Todd Stewart. “It has been prevalent for about the past month. I’m still seeing new cases. Hopefully the end of the outbreak is near.”
Warren County Red Cross executive director Kathy Nesmith reminds residents it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
“The American Red Cross in Warren County is getting word there’s still a serious flu outbreak,” said Nesmith. “The Centers for Disease Control says is the worst influenza outbreak in several years in the United States. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.”
While the flu has been worse in Tennessee than in recent years, the state has thus far been spared from epidemic levels.
“Those of us with gray hair have seen worse,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University. Schaffner believes it will be a moderate flu season, which may cause alarm in comparison to last year’s mild season.
Tennessee has yet to see the levels of flu activity experienced elsewhere in the country. In South Carolina, 22 people have suffered flu-related deaths. There have been 21 flu deaths reported in Indiana.
In Rhode Island, state health director Michael Fine describes the outbreak as “particularly severe” and says the state has seen an average of 180 emergency room visits a day for flu-like symptoms since Dec. 10.
The flu is not the only bug going around. Many people are experiencing a case of the common cold, the CDC says. Because these two illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart.
Though both illnesses may cause a fever, a low-grade fever typically signifies a cold, where a high-grade fever of 102 to 104 degrees probably means you have the flu. In general, the flu is worse and symptoms are more intense.
Here are some things to consider when deciding if it’s a cold or the flu:
• COLDS – Usual symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. It’s unusual to have fever, chills, headaches and body aches, and if they do occur, they are mild.
• FLU – Fever is usually present, along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and extreme tiredness. Symptoms can come on rapidly, within three to six hours. Coughs from flu are dry, and sore throats are less common.
People with colds or mild cases of the flu should get plenty of rest and fluids. Most over-the-counter cold remedies will help relieve some symptoms of both colds and flu.
Those with severe symptoms, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, should see a doctor and may be prescribed antiviral drugs or other medications.
Prescription medications called antiviral drugs can be used to treat flu illness and help to possibly shorten the illness by one or two days. Antiviral medications are not used to treat cold viruses.
Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter. You can only get them if you have a prescription from your doctor or health care provider. In order to be most effective, antiviral drugs should be started within two days of getting sick.