SHERIDAN — Nationally, this flu season has been one of the worst on record. Sheridan has been spared some of the extreme cases that have been reported across the country, but residents of the city are still at an elevated risk of catching the flu this year.
“We’re definitely seeing elevated levels of influenza,” Dr. Ben Widener of the Sheridan Memorial Hospital said. “There isn’t a region in the US that isn’t heavily affected by flu. It may not be as severe here as in some other parts of the country, but it is definitely a concern.”
Widener added that most of the flu cases in the city have been of the H3N2A strain, which is the most commonly seen strain of influenza, so the increase in cases of the flu this year is due to the virus spreading naturally.
“Once a virus like this takes off, it doesn’t take much for it to spread,” Dr. Widener said.
Considering this, the best response is for people to take steps to protect themselves.
Though flu season started months ago, Widener stressed that there is still time to get a flu vaccination. He said he expects the flu season to last for several more weeks and it only takes two weeks for antibodies to build up in the body after a flu vaccination. The Center for Disease Control recommends that everyone over six months old get a flu vaccination.
Widener said the effectiveness of flu vaccination usually varies from between 20 to 60 percent, depending on the year. Though the effectiveness of this year’s vaccinations has been on the lower end of that range, Widener still recommends it.
“The biggest criticism of the flu vaccine is: well you can still get the flu,” Widener said. “It’s about 30 percent effective this year.
Not getting the vaccine is 0 percent effective.”
In addition to getting a flu shot, people can decrease their chance of contracting the virus by washing their hands frequently and staying away from sick people. Basic good health practices like eating healthy, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated will also decrease the likelihood of getting the flu.
Flu symptoms typically come on suddenly and need to be treated quickly. Coughing, body aches, chills and fever are common flu symptoms. If you experience a sudden onset of these symptoms, Widener said you should see a doctor immediately.
“Antiviral medication is more effective the sooner it’s given,” Widener said. “After about two days, they don’t typically work.”
Widener also said antivirals can be prescribed to prevent infection when someone has been exposed to a known case of the flu.
Because influenza stunts the ability of the lungs to clear viruses and bacteria, doctors are particularly concerned about complications that can arise from a case of the flu.
“The flu in and of itself is an unpleasant virus, but the biggest problem it can cause is, within a couple weeks, someone who had the flu gets a severe case of pneumonia,” Widener said. “If someone recovers from the flu and then starts to feel sick again, they need to get evaluated immediately.”
This is especially true of people with chronic medical conditions and weakened immune systems. Widener noted that smokers, elderly people and very young children also have a higher risk of complications from influenza.
Age and conditions aside, the risk of catching the flu this year is especially high and taking the proper precautions can make for a much healthier winter.