Influenza, also called the flu, is widespread across the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that influenza-like illness activity is similar to what we saw during the peak of 2014-2015, which was considered a flu season of high severity. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses are the most dominant this season so far. Influenza A is associated with more complicated infections and associated with more hospitalizations and deaths among certain higher-risk populations. It is important to remember that flu is more than “just a bad cold.” It can cause serious illness in infants, pregnant women, those over age 65, and those with certain chronic medical conditions. It causes symptoms that range from mild (runny nose and cough) to severe (pneumonia and respiratory failure). Classic flu symptoms include fever greater than 100 degrees F,  chills, cough,  sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting (more common in children). These symptoms can often be managed by staying home and resting until you’re fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. Prevention Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on the individual vaccine) that research indicates will be most common in a given season. Effectiveness varies from year to year. This year’s flu vaccine is estimated to be about 30 percent effective overall. While this year’s vaccine does not provide protection as robust as those of earlier years, vaccination remains one of the best protections against flu. Everyone 6 months or older should be vaccinated. Here are additional ways to protect yourself and others from getting sick: — Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. — Avoid touching “the T zone” — your eyes, nose and mouth, gateways for spreading the virus. — Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. — Stay home if you’re sick. You can spread flu to others as far as six feet away by coughing, sneezing or talking, and you can spread the illness to others for five to seven days after getting sick. If you’re sick with flu-like illness, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications. — Clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated. These include shared phones, keyboards, utensils and doorknobs. — Avoid close contact with those who have cold or flu symptoms. — Get vaccinated. Even in the midst of flu season, vaccination remains one of the best protections against flu. To learn more about the flu, visit cdc.gov, www.cvmc.org/wellness-resources/wellness-topics/flu-season or contact your health care provider. Dr. Devika Singh practices in Central Vermont Medical Center’s Adult Primary Care, Hematology and Oncology group. She is a board-certified infectious disease physician.

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