HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - If you haven't gotten the flu yet this season - consider yourself lucky. You probably have a family member who's been through it, or a friend or neighbor.
Dr. Richard Spera, Madison County's Infectious Disease Specialist, was our guest on Leadership Perspectives on January 24. He talked about what's made this flu season different from most.
"This is probably an average, in terms of numbers, flu season. The difference this flu season is the distribution of people who are sick. We're seeing more young people who are sick this year than in past years," said Dr. Spera. "We're seeing more young people admitted to the hospital than we used to see."
Spera classifies young adults as people under 45. Shouldn't they be one of the healthiest age groups, we asked?
Dr. Spera said there are two reasons young adults are getting the flu this year. First, many of them don't get the flu shot. Second, one of the strains that is circulating now is H1N1. This was predominant in an outbreak in the first half of the 20th century.
"Older people who got the flu when they were younger, born before 1957, may have some immunity to the H1N1 strain," said Dr. Spera.
Since young people are getting it, how worried should parents be?
"It's a concern. Nationwide, there have been seven or eight pediatric deaths. Here in Madison County, we've had a few deaths of folks who were young who didn't have any other disease," said Dr. Spera. "There was nothing else wrong with them. Why them, as opposed to someone else - that sort of question, no one really has the answer to that."
Alabama did have a child die of a flu-associated illness in November 2013, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Dr. Spera urges you not to wait if you start to feel flu-like symptoms.
"There's a lot of misconceptions out there about what the flu is. A flu is not a bad cold. A flu-like illness - you'll have fever of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you'll have cough, you'll have body aches. If you've ever had that, you'll know it feels very different than just getting a cold and sore throat as well," he said. "If you have that, especially if you know there's an outbreak, that should be a call to your primary doctor."
Parents - if you suspect your child might have the flu - do you call your doctor?
"Certainly.... Time is of the essence," Dr. Spera explained. "If you get them [to the doctor] within 48 of the symptoms, it will short-circuit it. They'll be feeling much better within a day or two, and able to go back to school, able to go back to work. If you don't get it within the time frame, you're going to have the full monty. You'll be down for the count, you'll be out for [up to] 10 days."
Fever and cough are the two hallmarks, Dr. Spera stressed. If you have these, or your child does, don't play around -- go to the doctor.
What can parents do, knowing their kids are going off to school into an environment with children who may be sick?
"We call it herd immunity. If all the kids are vaccinated for flu... you reduce the amount of susceptible people out there, so that way, if the virus comes and finds you, either you don't get sick, or if you do, the symptoms are greatly ameliorated or reduced," Dr. Spera said.
Spera believes kids should get the flu shot or nasal spray.
He also said it's not too late for children or adults to get a flu shot for this season, even though we're at the end of January.
Other than the flu shot, what are other things you can do to protect yourself?
"If you're sick, stay home. If your child is sick, you keep them home," said Dr. Spera.
If you're healthy?
"Wash your hands. All the things your mother told you, when you went off to Kindergarten are true. Wash your hands, avoid crowds, cover your mouth."
What if you're at work, and a colleague comes in sick?
"Be vigilant, and watch and wait. If you have fever and cough, go see your doctor."
If you get the flu, should you let the people around you know?
"I think that's common courtesy," Dr. Spera replied.