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Video Spotlight

CBS Sunday Morning News takes a look at the University of Oklahoma Anesthesia Department and their use of the OU College Of Medicine's Clinical Skills Education & Testing Center.
 
CBS Sunday Morning News

OU Medicine News

News Release

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

  

Date: Jan. 24, 2018

For more information, call:

Vallery Brown

OU Medical Center/The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center
(405) 417-2401
vallery.brown@hcahealthcare.com

April Sandefer
OU Physicians
(405) 271-5067
april-sandefer@ouhsc.edu

OU MEDICINE EXPERTS CITE NEED FOR AWARENESS, PREVENTION DURING POWERFUL FLU SEASON

 (You can view a Facebook Live presentation of the flu media briefing from Jan. 24, 2018. For more information and resources on the flu, visit OU Medicine’s flu web page at www.oumedicine.com/flu. There, you can find up-to-date information on the number of confirmed cases at OU Medical Center, The Children’s Hospital and campus clinics.)

OKLAHOMA CITY –
As the number of confirmed influenza cases continues to climb in Oklahoma, OU Medicine experts say it’s not too late to get a flu shot and take other precautions to prevent or slow the spread of illness during this year’s flu season.

Influenza is a viral respiratory disease that causes fever, headache, cough, muscle pain, runny nose and other symptoms. Seasonal strains in the United States typically peak in the fall and winter months – on the OU Medicine campus, the number of those diagnosed with all strains of flu hit a high this year with 165 positive flu tests from Jan. 14-20. 

So far this flu season, the state Department of Health reports 1,141 hospitalizations and 45 deaths from the flu. Most of those deaths occurred in patients older than 65.

Influenza A the predominant strain this flu season

Dr. Cindy McCloskey, director, microbiology and virology laboratories at OU Medical Center, said the most common type of flu being seen this year is influenza A, specifically H3N2.

“This is definitely a high flu A season,” McCloskey said.

McCloskey said influenza A and B are the ones that typically cause epidemics during the flu season. But there are also influenza C and D strains, although D strains don’t infect humans. Influenza A has the most subtypes and potential for genetic changes, making testing and vaccination more difficult. Influenza A changes more rapidly than other strains of the flu.

“So by the time the vaccine goes to market and the flu ramps up, the type of flu circulating may be subtly different than what’s in the vaccine,” she said.

According to the CDC, while all influenza viruses undergo frequent genetic changes, the changes that have occurred in influenza A (H3N2) viruses have more frequently resulted in differences between the virus components of the flu vaccine and circulating influenza viruses. Therefore, between the time when the composition of the flu vaccine is recommended and the flu vaccine is delivered, H3N2 viruses are more likely than H1N1 or influenza B viruses to have changed in ways that could impact how well the flu vaccine works.

Testing for influenza

Those changes also affect the accuracy of flu tests over the course of many years. The most common type of flu test is called a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT or rapid flu test). RIDTs work by detecting antigens specific to the strain of flu virus. Tests can provide results in 10-15 minutes, but are not as accurate as other flu test methods. Other flu tests, such as rapid molecular assays, detect the virus’ genetic material. Rapid molecular assays produce results in 15-20 minutes and are more accurate than RIDTs.

Still other, more complex tests can be performed in laboratory settings like at OU Medical Center, but those tests are most often reserved for particularly ill patients when it’s important to know more detail about the virus or other potential causes of a patient’s infection, McCloskey said.

The seasonal spread

While influenza rages on this flu season, knowing how and why it spreads as well as how to prevent it become paramount, OU Medicine experts said.

Dr. Robert Welliver, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the OU College of Medicine, said there are a few reasons why the flu hits hardest in North America during fall and winter months.

“Influenza is essentially year-round in tropical climates, so spread is not strictly related to cold weather. In winter, we tend to huddle inside, which makes it easier to spread infections because of the sustained close contact,” said Welliver.

The virus spreads via one of two mechanisms, he said.  

“First, as you cough or sneeze and cover your mouth with your hand, you get the virus on your hands where it can then be deposited on hard surfaces (like handles of shopping carts), on cloth or on others,” said Welliver. “Secondly, viruses are also spread as large or small droplets that are suspended in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Larger particles travel up to three feet and can be inhaled by those in that close contact with an infected person.”

These particles are also the ones that land on hard surfaces and can remain viable for an extended amount of time. But influenza virus can also form  smaller particles that travel up to five feet through the air, Welliver said. It's very easy for several people to inhale these particles, and the explosive outbreaks of influenza are largely related to this spreading mechanism.

Prevention is key

Dr. Rachel Franklin, medical director, OU Physicians Family Medicine, said avoiding and preventing the spread of the flu is possible by following some simple steps that most people already know. The basics are the most important, from making sure to get the flu vaccine to using hand sanitizer and keeping coughs covered.

“It seems so much is common sense, but I’m always amazed by how many people don’t follow these,” Franklin said.

Franklin said it’s important to note that research shows receiving flu vaccinations can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza.

“Of the children who die each year, more than 80 percent did not get a flu shot. There are sometimes medical reasons why people cannot receive flu vaccine, but we urge anyone who is able to get a flu shot. We can greatly reduce the number of healthy people who die of flu if those people will get vaccinated.”

While these steps are important in preventing the spread of flu, it’s important to remember there are a number o​f respiratory viruses that are not flu but are also common during flu season. Fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue are the most common flu symptoms. Some people, such as othe elderly, young children and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications. Seek physician expertise if you have flu or flu-like symptoms.

Who should get the flu shot?

  • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza.
  • Children younger than 6 months and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not get the flu shot.
  • Talk to a doctor about being vaccinated if:
    • If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome
    • If you are not feeling well
    • If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine

Avoiding the flu

  • Wash hands or use sanitizer frequently
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Get a flu shot
  • If you are designated caregiver, consider wearing a mask
  •  

Keeping others well when you’re sick

  • STAY HOME until two days after the fever breaks
  • Cover your cough – cough into your sleeve, not a facial tissue
  • Create a “sick room” – allow only one caregiver in and out until the fever has broken, to reduce spread
  • If you have frail, elderly or very young family, have them ask their doctor about medication to reduce infection

How to get better when you have the flu

  • If you are frail, elderly or if the sick person is very young, call your doctor to ask about medication to treat influenza WITHIN 48 hours of symptoms
  • Get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen if you are able to treat aches
  • Try a tablespoon of honey for cough, and a humidifier if your throat and sinuses are dry. 

When to seek emergency care – call 911 if:

  • You are more short of breath than usual
  • Your skin is pale or blue