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Surviving Flu Season

Man suffering from flu.

This year's flu season is making headlines, as it sweeps through the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has rated this year's flu as "moderately severe," and estimates that 34 million Americans will catch the flu this season. Nationally, the CDC says 37 children have died and 12,000 people have been hospitalized. In Pennsylvania, there have been at least 47 deaths reported, including one child.

The flu season will not relent any time soon. Luckily, while many people get their flu shots before the season begins, it's not too late to get one now. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Shara Epstein explains, "Influenza is expected to circulate at high levels for the next several weeks and the flu season could last for the next couple of months. Getting a shot now will protect people for the second half of the season."

Primary care physician Dr. Annette Gadegbeku agrees. "Even if you are to be exposed to or have the flu viral illness, you will likely have milder symptoms and a shorter duration of illness if you get a flu shot," she says. "A flu shot also reduces missed time away from work or school, decreases doctor's visits and decreases the risk of hospitalization and even death."

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Dr. Gadegbeku adds, "The other under-appreciated benefit of receiving the influenza vaccine is the protection of others – especially the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and the very ill who may have serious consequences if they were to get the flu."

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea are possible and more common in children.

Dr. Epstein advises, "People who are at serious risk of complications like young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with some underlying medical conditions should check in with their doctor early in their illness if they think they might have the flu."

Additionally, people who have any emergency warning signs of flu illness should seek care immediately. Emergency warning signs include difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting and flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and cough. Patients with these symptoms should go to the emergency room.

"If you are not at high risk of developing complications and not having any emergency warning signs," says Epstein, "it is okay to stay home and rest."

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

 
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