Heralded by body aches, chills and fever, flu season is in full swing. At a minimum it can be an inconvenience and at its worst it can be deadly. Influenza activity is considered to be widespread in the Washington region, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Influenza B/Victoria is the most common form of the virus that is circulating in our area, says Barbara Downes, Communicable Disease Epidemiology Manager with Fairfax County Health Department.
“Unlike a typical flu season when we tend to see influenza B in the spring at the end of the flu season, we are seeing influenza B predominantly circulating now,” she said. “Even though it can cause milder illness in adults and those who are otherwise healthy, it can be more severe in children.”
Knowing the causes and practicing preventative habits are keys to keeping the flu at bay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu virus spreads from one person to another primarily by touching or inhaling viral droplets that are made when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks.
“One of the things that happens is that someone coughs or sneezes into their hand and then touches a door knob and then someone comes behind them and touches the same door knob,” said Mary Anderson of the Montgomery Department of Health and Human Services. “That’s a really common way for a virus to spread. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow and make sure your nose and mouth are covered.”
Getting a flu shot is one of the best ways to prevent the flu, advises Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director of the Arlington County Department of Human Services. “It’s still not too late,” he said. “Peak flu season runs through February, and outbreaks can happen through late May.”
Practicing good hygiene is a simple and effective, but often overlooked preventative measure “Wash your, hands wash, your hands, wash your hands,” said Anderson “Wash your hands with plain old soap and water for 20 seconds. The soap doesn’t have to be fancy. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”
“Every day communicable disease prevention tips are really important this time of year,” added Downes. “Disposing of your tissues properly…and staying home when you are sick.”
While Coronavirus is a concern, Anderson says that the flu is a much greater threat to those in the Washington region. “It’s important to learn about the virus from China, but we’re not at high risk of it unless you’ve traveled to that part of China,” said Anderson. “The flu is much more of a threat. Each year, the flu kills thousands and thousands of people. It’s very important to pay attention to it and do simple things to prevent it.”