This is shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, and it’s little more than halfway through, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The highest hospitalization rate for flu this season is among people 65 years and older, and the second most impacted group are people 50-64 years of age. That means many truckers are near or in those high risk categories.
This year’s heightened flu activity is largely attributed to the H3N2 strain, reports Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases’ Influenza Division. In a Jan. 26 CDC update, Jernigan said when the H3N2 strain is the predominant cause of flu, there are typically more flu-related doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths. In similar previous flu seasons, the CDC estimates that as many as 34 million people got the flu.
Jernigan suggested the flu may be hitting older individuals harder because the flu they were exposed to when they were younger is different from the strains circulating today, so they have less immunity.
The flu’s impact
The CDC does not track the total number of flu-related deaths because the systems it uses to collect those numbers are only representative of parts of the U.S. However, there have been at least 53 flu-related pediatric deaths, as of Feb. 2. Many of those deaths were related to the H1N1 strain.
In previous years where H3N2 has been more severe, the CDC has estimated as many as 56,000 total deaths.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey declared a statewide public health emergency in January due to the flu outbreak. The Montgomery Advertiser reports that Alabama health officials are investigating 54 deaths that are potentially flu-related in the state in January. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York declared a disaster emergency Jan. 25. New York’s Department of Health says it has seen as many as 7,779 lab-confirmed cases of the flu, with at least 1,759 of those resulting in hospitalization.
The flu is widespread throughout the U.S., with at least 39 states seeing “high” activity. Only Washington, D.C. and Hawaii are seeing only local activity.
Treatment and prevention: Truckers can get free flu vaccine
Most people experiencing the flu should be able to recover in a few days without visiting the doctor, Jernigan said. However, higher risk individuals should visit a doctor for antiviral medicine if they suspect they have the flu.
“Those who are at high risk that we recommend to get treated if they get sick with the flu are the very young, the very old, the pregnant women and those with underlying illnesses like heart conditions and lung problems,” Jernigan said.
Even healthy people can have the flu develop into more serious illness. Individuals experiencing symptoms of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, very high and persistent fevers and chest pain should consult a doctor, Jernigan said.
The St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund provides free flu vaccine vouchers to Class A CDL holders. To receive the free vaccine, truckers must print the voucher from the SCF site and take it to a Kroger, The Little Clinic, Walgreens or The Medicine Shoppe at White’s Travel Center. Flu shots can also be found through the HealthMap Vaccine Finder online.
Other ways you can prevent the flu, per the CDC, include:
- Washing your hands often
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Avoid close contact with sick individuals
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Clean and disinfect surfaces you regularly touch, like in your truck or at truck stop
Truckers should be careful of the surfaces they touch while over the road. Remember to clean your hands after visiting a truck stop or rest area. Truckers may wish to use disinfecting wipes to wash their hands when there’s no access to soap and water.
Even dogs are getting the flu
This year’s flu season has even been tough on dogs, so truckers who travel with their pets need to take some precautions.
Canine influenza activity is up this year in parts of the country. In a Canine Influenza Virus Notice posted by the American Kennel Club Jan. 29, Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer, clarified that humans cannot contact dog flu and most dogs do not become infected with the flu from humans. Dogs who frequent communal places like dog parks, day cares and boarding facilities are at a higher risk for dog flu. They can contract dog flu through touching contaminated items like bowls, leashes and crates. Dog flu can also spread from people moving between infected and uninfected dogs.
Cases of dog flu have been confirmed in California, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Nevada. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is tracking the dog flu outbreak online, and it reports there have been as many as 206 confirmed cases in California.
According to Klein, almost all dogs exposed to dog flu contract it, with 80 percent showing symptoms. They are contagious for 3-4 days before symptoms develop and for 7-10 days after their symptoms subside. Dogs can recover with proper veterinary treatment within 2-3 weeks of diagnosis. The symptoms of dog flu include: lethargy, fever, decreased appetite, cough, runny eyes and nose and vomiting.
There is a vaccine for dog flu. The vaccine requires a booster shot two weeks after the first injection and generally takes 3-4 weeks to provide immunity.
To reduce your dog’s risk of contracting the flu while they’re on the road with you, limit how often you take them to places other dogs frequent and keep their collars, bowls, leashes and other items sanitized.