By Lisa Capobianco
Flu activity has started to increase in Connecticut, classified as geographically “sporadic,” according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). As more reports of influenza outbreaks take off, the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District has tips for local residents to ensure that protect themselves and their loved ones from the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 200,000 people become hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. The CDC reports that young children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions like asthma and diabetes have high risks of flu outbreaks, recommending that an annual flu shot serves as the best protection against influenza. Children younger than six months old also have a high risk of serious flu illness but are too young to be vaccinated, so their caretakers should make sure they receive a vaccination.
“If you have not received the flu shot yet, get one,” said Shane Lockwood, the director of the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District, which just administered its ninth flu clinic. “Read the information out there—learn about what the shot is.”
Lockwood advises residents to take extra precautions, including washing their hands for 20 seconds and using enough sanitizer to lather their hands if not near a sink. He also said to cover their cough if they have one, to get plenty of sleep and exercise and to eat healthy and drink enough fluids. If sick with a flu-like illness, the Health District suggests staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever disappears without the use of fever-reducing medication.
Lockwood said currently the Health District has not yet received any reports of local flu outbreaks, but will continue to monitor both local and statewide trends. According to the DPH, a total of 57 positive influenza reports have occurred in Connecticut for the current flu season, with a total of 16 hospitalized patients with laboratory-confirmed influenza as of November 23. The DPH has reported one influenza-associated death in a state resident over 50 years old.
During the 2012-2013 influenza flu season (August 26, 2012 through august 24, 2013), influenza activity overall ranks among the highest recorded during the past decade, according to the DPH. The DPH reported that a total of 2,228 hospitalized patients with influenza-associated illnesses, along with 57 deaths and over 400 weekly hospital pneumonia admissions.
“I think the numbers reflect how serious the flu is and why it is important to get the flu shot…especially in older and vulnerable populations,” Lockwood said. “Last year and the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic should be good reminders regarding the dangers associated with the flu.”
Alan Siniscalchi, the Influenza and Public Health Preparedness Surveillance Coordinator at DPH, said the flu became severe last year due to a new subtype of viruses that developed influenza, called the H3N2. Sinischalchi said the new subtype developed as a result of “antigenic shift,” a sudden major change in the influenza A viruses. According to the CDC, the new subtype or virus may emerge from an animal population that differs from the same subtype in humans, so the majority of individuals will not become immune to the new virus.
“It was quite an unusual season,” Siniscalchi said, adding that the H3N2 subtype started developing at least two years ago.
Sinisclachi also said that although it is still early to predict how the current flu season will turn out, he expects that many people may become susceptible to the H3N2 subtype again.
“It is too early to tell, so it is important to get your flu shot if you have not already done so,” Sinisclachi said.
Visit http://www.flu.gov to find flu shot clinics and providers. Although flu activity usually peaks in January or February, seasonal flu activity may start as early as October and may end as late as May.