On the Record

Fighting the flu

On the Record with Cindy Graves

Cindy Graves
Cindy Graves

Winter, spring, summer and fall are the four seasons, but according to Cindy Graves, director of community health and prevention at the DeKalb County Health Department, the county is currently experiencing a fifth season: flu season.

Flu activity often begins to increase in October with most of the flu peaking between December and February, although according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity can last as late as May. The incidence of flu-like illness in the U.S. peaked the last week of 2019 and the first week of 2020.

The Health Department provides flu vaccinations for adults and children ages 6 months to 18 years. A parent or guardian must accompany those younger than 18. Medicare, Medicaid and most PPO insurance plans are accepted. Bring all insurance cards and a photo ID. Flu vaccines cost $38 without insurance.

For information about the flu and vaccinations, call 815-748-2467 in English, 815-748-2524 in Spanish or call the flu hotline at 815-748-2410.

Graves answered questions through email about the flu, flu vaccinations and coronavirus.

Milton: What is the flu?

Graves: Influenza is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by various influenza virus strains. … Note that influenza is a respiratory illness as opposed to what is mistakenly labeled as “flu” – a gastrointestinal illness with vomiting and diarrhea.

Milton: What are the symptoms of the flu?

Graves: Flu symptoms vary as some may experience mild illness while others may have more severe symptoms. Symptoms include fever or feeling feverish chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever.

Milton: How does this year’s flu compare with other years?

Graves: The incidence of flu-like illness in the U.S. peaked the last week of 2019 and the first week of 2020. This is typical of what we see every year because those two weeks are when there are a lot of congregate gatherings for the holidays, creating more of an environment for sharing of any infection. Other indicators of the severity of a flu season are shown in the number of pediatric deaths. Thus far in the 2019-2020 flu season, there have been 78 pediatric deaths in the U.S. as compared to 144 total pediatric deaths in all of the 2018-19 season, and 188 total pediatric deaths in the U.S. all of the 2017-18 season. The incidence of patients testing positive for flu thus far in the 2019-20 flu season is highest in those age 65 and older and second highest in those age 0 to 4 years. This fits with who is most at risk – the very young and elderly.

Milton: What makes the flu so dangerous?

Graves: Most people who get flu will recover in a few days, but some people develop complications, such as pneumonia, as a result of flu, which can be life-threatening and result in death. This threat is even more worrisome for the very young, elderly or immunocompromised.

Milton: What can people do to lower their risk for the flu?

Graves: Get their flu shots! A flu shot is the best way to prevent flu. Taking everyday preventive actions like limiting exposure to people who are sick and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs can also help prevent the flu. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.

Milton: Is it too late to get a flu shot?

Graves: No, it is not too late to get your flu shot. DeKalb County Health Department continues to offer flu shots as a walk-in service Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Milton: What is coronavirus and how does it differ from the flu?

Graves: Coronavirus is a larger category of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. Most people have been exposed to a coronavirus during their lifetime with an illness that usually only lasts for a few days. The common cold is sometimes caused by a coronavirus. The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is one strain of a coronavirus.

Milton: Should the community be more worried about coronavirus or the flu? Which is more likely to affect them?

Graves: The incidence of the COVID-19 in the United States is extremely low, with only 15 confirmed cases in the U.S. with travel to China or been in close, intimate contact with someone who is infected. At this time, there is no risk of exposure to COVID-19 to the general public. The symptoms are closely related to influenza-like symptoms so additional information such as if there has been a history of travel to China within the last 14 days or close contact with someone who has traveled is important information to determine if an illness is influenza or could potentially be COVID-19. Given the incidence and potential health threat of influenza in the U.S., one is much more likely to become ill with influenza vs. COVID-19.

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