(AFNS) — Although flu season typically peaks in February, the influenza-related death toll continues to climb as the nation is impacted by an increase in influenza illnesses, with 47 states reporting widespread geographical activity. With a 10 to 20 percent increase (of cases) for this time of year, medical professionals urge service members to take preventive actions.
“Non-immunized children up to 18 years old have been particularly hard hit, but all ages are affected,” said Lt. Col. Brian Ortman, 633rd Medical Group public health flight commander, Langley AFB, Va. “Health professionals are seeing influenza and other respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Influenza A (H3N2) has been the predominant strain this season, which might indicate the increased severity as H3N2 flu seasons typically tend to be more severe.”
According to Ortman, service members and their families can take preventive actions to avoid becoming affected by the flu.
“The most effective way to prevent the majority of flu infections is through an annual vaccination, combined with proper hand washing and cough etiquette. Hand washing and use of sanitizing gels can reduce infection rates by 30 percent,” he said. “This year’s vaccine is an excellent match for the flu strains being seen. Still, a small percentage of vaccinated people do get the flu, although usually milder and shorter duration.
While children seem to be most affected this year, Ortman said everyone six months of age and older is recommended for vaccination against the flu, and children need two doses of flu vaccine the first year to be fully protected.
Although all members are essential in carrying out the mission, Ortman advises individuals to take care of themselves if they are affected by the flu. “Stay home if you are sick. If deciding whether or not to stay home, consider if you have a fever more than 100.5 F with cough or sore throat,” Ortman said. “If a medical quarters order is needed, or symptoms worsen or persist, individuals should make an appointment with their primary care manager first, or visit the Emergency Department if necessary.
“AFI 36-815, Absence and Leave, provides sick leave guidance for civilian employees,” Ortman continued. “(We encourage) commanders and supervisors to use discretion with similar guidance for military members.”
According to Ortman, there is still a substantial supply for those needing the vaccine.
For more information about the seriousness of influenza and the benefits of the influenza vaccine, Ortman advises service members to talk to their doctor, visit www.flu.gov or contact your base’s immunizations department.