CLEVELAND -- Dr. Melissa Osborn, an expert at the MetroHealth Medical Center Infectious Diseases Unit, fielded several questions from Channel 3 viewers over the last few days about the recent rise in flu cases in Ohio.
Below are her responses to some of the most popular questions from real people.
Ally Smith Jordan: What are the factors that can cause influenza to be fatal?
Most people who die from the flu have another illness that puts them at risk for complications, like diabetes, cancer, or lung disease. People over 65 are also at greater risk for dying from the flu. In most fatal cases, pneumonia develops from the flu itself or bacterial pneumonia on top of the flu.
Cheryl Escott Levinsky: Is it too late to get a flu shot?
Absolutely not! It takes about two weeks for your body to respond to the shot before you are protected. Even if you get the shot, it's still important to continue to clean your hands frequently (washing or hand sanitizer) and cover your cough to protect yourself against other respiratory viruses.
Donna Vest-Hare: How soon after your feeling a little better should you return to work?
People become contagious about 24 hours before that start to feel sick and stay that way for 2 to 3 days. The virus is totally gone after 5 to 10 days. Most people will start to feel better after 3 to 4 days of illness and can probably return to work. Healthcare workers and others who work with people who might be immunocompromised should refer to their human resources policies about when to return to work.
Tammy Daws: Is this year's vaccine a good match for the flu?
I've heard people who've been to a doctor with symptoms that they "have a strain not covered by the vaccine." According to the CDC website, it was a 90% match.
Most of the circulating strains this year were included in the vaccine. You are right that about 10% of the strains typed by the CDC were strains NOT in the vaccine. For the most part, however, this year's vaccine was a good match. The main strains that are circulating are seasonal influenza A (not H1N1) and some influenza B. In most cases, your doctor will not do typing on your flu strain to see what kind it is, because the treatment is the same for all of them.
Melinda Angel: Once you are exposed to the flu virus, how long does it take to get the flu, or be in the clear?
The "incubation period" (time from exposure to illness) is 1 to 2 days. The onset of illness is sometimes very abrupt. The first symptoms are usually fever and chills, body aches, headaches and feeling "blah." These symptoms are usually not seen with the common cold. There are some respiratory symptoms (cough, sore throat, runny nose) with both.
Joyce Kemmett: Why does getting the flu shot make you get the flu after you get the shot? The doctor said it would be good for my oldest to get the shot because he had asthma, but after he did, it was the worst winter -- he was always sick! That was when he was 2. Now he's almost 9 and my family refuses to get the flu shot.
It's important to realize that the flu shot won't keep you from getting sick; it will only keep you from getting influenza! There are a LOT of other winter respiratory viruses that cause cold symptoms (and asthma flares) besides the flu. Most children get 6 to 8 respiratory infections per year, maybe more if they are in daycare. Influenza can be distinguished from other cold viruses because it causes more body aches, fevers and lack of appetite than other viruses, although sometimes it can be hard to tell without a special test for the flu. Children with asthma are at higher risk for complications from influenza. I would recommend giving it another chance!
The flu shot itself can't cause the flu. The injectable flu vaccine uses a killed virus that can't make you sick. The nasal flu vaccine uses a live virus that has been inactivated and can't make you sick.