Most of us are familiar with influenza, a virus that can cause serious illness. Typically influenza season in Indiana begins in October, peaks in December to February, but may extend into May.

The influenza virus affects the trachea, which results in high fever, chills, fatigue, severe muscle aches, headache, runny nose, and cough. Some individuals may experience vomiting and diarrhea. Complications of this illness include sinus infection, pneumonia, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, and diabetes.

Individuals over age 65 are particularly vulnerable to the effects of influenza due to aging changes in their immune system. Existing health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes increase the risk of complications when influence strikes. These people are typically encouraged to be immunized against influenza. A conversation between an individual with their primary healthcare provider can help determine the best course of action.

There are three primary types of influenza and multiple subtypes. Scientists have been attempting to develop a “universal vaccine” that would broaden coverage, but this endeavor has its challenges. Each year they work to develop the vaccine that will be used during the upcoming season. This decision on how the vaccine is formulated is primarily based on the strains that are circulating elsewhere in the world. The yearly vaccine may not totally prevent infection with the virus, but it typically lessens the symptoms. The influenza virus itself, however, can and does mutate and on rare occasions can affect the effectiveness of the year’s formulated vaccine.

Influenza is active year-round in various parts of the world. In the southern hemisphere, influenza season occurs from April to September. In the tropics, influenza occurs throughout the year. There are several occasions when travelers may interact (i.e., on a cruise) with other individuals from different countries and be exposed to influenza. Since immunity from the vaccine lasts on average for only six months, an individual being exposed during the time that immunity has lapsed is strongly susceptible. Frequent handwashing (or hand sanitizer when appropriate) can help decrease the risk. 

It is extremely important in a congregate setting (i.e., Britton Falls) to isolate (stay home) during times of illness. This practice will help prevent the spread of illness to family, friends, neighbors, and the community.