This year’s flu season has returned to an epidemic level, according to the latest flu data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But what is an epidemic? It simply means that a higher-than-usual number of flu cases have been reported. In early January, 8.5 percent of all deaths across the United States were due to pneumonia and influenza.
Part of the problem is that this year’s flu vaccine is not working as planned. This year’s flu vaccine is only 23 percent effective, which is one of the worst performances in the past decade, according to a government study released in mid-February.
The flu, also called influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the influenza viruses. The influenza virus generally enters the body through mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes.
The flu virus is usually most active from October through May, hence “flu season.” Older adults, young children and people with compromised immune systems and other health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
Each year in the United States, between 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 23,600 people die from flu-related causes.
Generally, when a flu-infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes airborne. This live virus can then be inhaled by anyone in the area. You can also get the flu if you’ve touched a contaminated surface such as a telephone or a door knob, and then touch your nose or mouth. Of course, the risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas such as schools, buses and crowded urban settings.
The symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting. It is important to note that not everyone with influenza will have a fever (a temperature of 100 degrees F or greater). Consider people to have a fever if they feel warm to the touch, indicate they feel hot or feverish, or when you actually measure their temperature it is 100 degrees or greater.
If a passenger or crew member has Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) before leaving port, he/she should be advised against traveling for at least 24 hours after the fever ends (without the use of fever-reducing medications). This is not only best for the individual; it is best for everyone else onboard to avoid spreading the illness.
Passengers and crew with ILI who are already onboard when the symptoms begin should be medically evaluated and remain isolated in their cabins until at least 24 hours after their fever naturally ends.
When sending a patient with ILI to a medical facility, notify the facility in advance. Also, use care in transporting the sick person so as not to infect others along the way.
Individuals suspected of influenza should be separated from others as much as possible. They should also wear a facemask to prevent the airborne spread of the virus.
If the sick individual shares a cabin, move the healthy person out, if possible, to lessen the chance of that person becoming infected.
If someone on board is sick, it is important that all passengers and crew be reminded to wash their hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Other suggestions to limit the spread while onboard include limiting the number of people who interact with the ill person. When possible, assign one person to deliver meals, medication and all other deliveries. This person should wear a disposable mask and gloves.
In past articles, I have talked about the importance of carrying a sufficient quantity of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, N95 respirators, and disposable gloves. Crew members and guests who may have contact with sick persons should be instructed in the proper use, storage, and disposal of PPE.
The CDC recommends flu vaccine as the first and most important step in preventing flu. The second line of defense is antiviral drugs, prescription medicines that fight against the flu in your body.
Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.