If it seems like there have been a few more empty seats in classrooms and offices lately, it may be another symptom of the early arrival of this year’s seasonal flu bug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 22,048 flu cases nationwide from September 2012 through the end of the year – a substantial increase from the 849 cases reported during the same period in 2011.
“Flu season is generically thought of as somewhere from about the first of October, usually until about the end of March,” said Michael Bigham, MD, an intensivist on the pediatric intensive care unit at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It typically peaks in mid-January to early-February, and then by the end of March we’re sort of through the lion’s share of the illnesses.”
Although the flu has been much more prevalent this year, data from the CDC seems to indicate it is peaking at the usual time, with cases starting to drop toward the end of January. This is welcome news for families, especially those with young children.
“In the children’s hospital, there are two big patient populations that are at greatest risk for either contracting the influenza virus, or worse yet, suffering the most severe illness associated with the flu,” said Dr. Bigham. “Those two populations are the youngest children, some would say children less than a year of age. The second population is the patient with some secondary chronic illness. So that may be a child with asthma. That may be a child who was formerly a premature baby who has some underdeveloped chronic lung disease.”
Dr. Bigham stressed the importance of immunization, isolation and hand washing in preventing the spread of the disease. He also discussed the symptomatic treatment parents can provide at home, and when it may be time to visit the emergency room in the following video.