Will Flu Season Hit Harder This Year?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with COVID-19, the U.S. is approaching cold and flu season which offers a whole new crop of concerns. According to the CDC, outbreaks of influenza are happening in areas throughout the country. What can we expect from the flu variants this year? Here’s what experts are saying about the impact of the flu, and how to protect your loved ones from it.

 

Key Facts About the Flu (Influenza)

 

What is influenza? The virus commonly known as the flu is a respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The symptoms it causes can vary, from mild, cold-like symptoms to severe discomfort and even death. Symptoms can include: 

 

  • Fever or feeling feverish or experiencing chills
  • Cough 
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Body aches or headaches 
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach discomfort like nausea and diarrhea

 

According to the CDC, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu each year. Most ranges state between 3% and 11%, depending on the season. These percentages are based on people who display symptoms, and it’s possible to be infected without displaying any. The same study found that children are most likely to get sick from flu and that people 65 and older are least likely to get sick from influenza. Children younger than 18 are particularly vulnerable: they are more than twice as likely to develop symptomatic flu infections than adults 65 and older.

 

Flu season typically peaks between December and February but can continue into May in particularly bad years. The flu also results in the loss of more than 100 million workdays in the U.S. each year, along with significant costs for doctor visits, treatment, and downtime. 

 

How Does the Flu Spread? 

 

Most medical experts believe that the flu is passed from person to person, when those experiencing the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. The droplets that they release can end up in the noses or mouths of people nearby. Less often, the flu may be passed by touching a surface that someone with the flu was exposed to. Generally, flu particles are more likely to infect someone if they have some on their hands and touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. 

 

Unfortunately, it’s possible to spread the flu before you even realize you’re sick. People are most contagious in the three to four days after the onset of their illness. Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. In rarer cases, people with weakened immune systems can infect someone for even longer. The time between when a person is exposed and infected with flu and the time when symptoms begin is roughly two days but can range from about one to four days.

 

Could the Flu be Worse This Year? 

 

You may hear people say things like “It’s going to be a bad year for the flu.” What is this based on? 

 

Many experts predict that the flu may be more prevalent this year than last year. The flu essentially “took a break” last year. COVID-19 put a bigger emphasis on hygiene and public health measures. People were more likely to be diligent about hand washing, mask use, and social distancing. This helped keep the spread of the flu (and other illnesses) lower.  

 

Now, with increased vaccination rates for COVID-19, some people may feel more comfortable socializing or limiting their mask-wearing. Furthermore, the health care system has been over-burdened by COVID-19, which can make it more difficult to seek out and retrieve treatment. If it’s difficult to get an appointment, some individuals may skip the doctor and choose to recover on their own. Without a diagnosis, they may end up exposing more people than they would otherwise.  

 

The flu is estimated to cause about 710,000 hospitalizations and up to 61,000 deaths each year in the U.S. - but we may see an increase in those numbers this year. 

 

How Can People Protect Against the Flu?

 

Similar to the advice on COVID-19, the best recourse is actually prevention - a flu vaccine. An annual flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. 

 

Everyday preventative measures are also important. Good hygiene tactics like regular hand washing and staying away from people who are sick are helpful. Take action to slow the spread of germs to the nose, mouth, and eyes. 

 

Another significant measure is keeping your air clean. Consider the fact that flu particles spread through actions like a sneeze or cough. How far can air from a sneeze travel? You might be surprised. According to research, a sneeze can actually travel up to 6 feet and droplets can remain in the air for much longer than previously thought. In fact, a sneeze can actually send mucus and saliva well beyond the distance social distancing guidelines suggest. 

 

Keeping Air Clean

 

The more stagnant your air is, the more likely it is for these dangerous droplets to remain in the area. Proper airflow and ventilation can help keep bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants out of the air your family breathe, dramatically affecting how diseases spread indoors. 

 

An air purifier can make a big difference, particularly during years that are likely to be worse for the flu. Air purifiers are designed to remove virus and bacteria particles in addition to dust, pollen, mold spores, pet dander, and smoke. It’s important to distinguish between a high-quality air purifier that’s been tested for the removal of such particles and one that has not. For example, Medify air purifiers are proven to remove nearly 100% of potentially harmful airborne particles. In fact, ARE and CUBRC Labs tested the MA-40, MA-50, and MA-112 purifiers against particles related to COVID-19 and SARS-Cov-2, and the systems successfully removed 99.95 to 99.99% of the harmful particles in less than 30 minutes.

 

When it comes to filtration systems, only H13 or better removes 99.9%, down to 0.1 microns. Medify Air purifiers use True HEPA H13 and H14 filters with three levels of filtration to catch and remove allergens, pet dander, and virus-spreading particles, among many others. That being said, there are a wide variety of air purifiers that can make sense for your space, depending on the size of the area, your budget, and other features. Explore Medify to find your perfect purifier solution. 

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