Flu’s Arrival in Western New York

Woman Blowing Her Nose

By William M. Healy, M.D.

The winds of yet another Buffalo winter have blown in more than just snow and icy chills. Influenza has arrived in all its fury wreaking havoc on our residents. Numerous cases of influenza were reported throughout December, which quickly escalated to near epidemic levels in the weeks that followed. Doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics, and hospital emergency rooms have been overrun with flu-stricken patients. And local area pharmacies had a difficult time keeping Tamiflu, a popular over-the-counter influenza remedy, on the shelves. Two of my children became ill but have, thankfully, recovered uneventfully.

Influenza is an infectious virus that attacks the respiratory system, namely, the nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms can begin just two days after exposure and those affected become ill with fever, chills, body aches, and pains. Other symptoms often include runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, eye irritation, headache and fatigue. Diarrhea and abdominal pain can occur in children, but are unusual in adults. Many patients find themselves confined to bed for a few days, but fortunately recovery occurs within 7 to 10 days for most patients.

Unlike the common cold, influenza is much more serious. In the United States, 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations are directly attributed to influenza infections. The very young, elderly, and chronically ill patients with weakened immune systems are most at risk. However, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus targeted teenagers and young adults, making it important for people of all ages to understand the dangers associated with contracting influenza.

So how can you protect yourself from the influenza virus? Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that a yearly influenza vaccine is your best defense. By receiving the influenza vaccine, you are protecting yourself, as well as the people around you from getting sick. The surface of the influenza virus contains special antigens known as “H” and “N” which have the ability to change themselves through mutation and re-assortment. The influenza vaccine stimulates the immune system to make protective antibodies against these “H” and “N” antigens. The influenza virus currently wreaking havoc throughout Western New York is a form of the H3N2 virus. Next year’s virus will likely be completely different, which is why a new vaccine is required for every influenza season.

Frequent hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs is another form of protection. The influenza virus can survive up to two days on hard surfaces, such as plastic or metal. Even money has been shown to transmit the virus. When you touch a contaminated object and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, viral transmission can occur, which is why practicing good hygiene is important. A cough or sneeze from an infected person emits the live virus into the air, which can quickly spread to others. So avoid individuals who are ill whenever possible, and remain at home if you become infected with the virus. It is only by educating ourselves and taking proper precautions that we can minimize the impact of influenza in Western New York.

About the Author:
William M. Healy, M.D. specializes in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is located at 1829 Maple Road, Suite 202, Williamsville, NY 14221. To make an appointment with Dr. Healy call 716.204.5933 or visit www.MDVIP.com/WilliamHealyMD.