Flu FAQ with Hospital Epidemiologist August Valenti, M.D.

February 22, 2018
UPDATED: March 7, 2018

Dr. August Valenti, MDThere has been a great deal of interest in this year’s flu season, as flu activity in the U.S. began earlier than usual and flu continues to be widespread here in Maine. Maine Medical Center’s care teams receive regular updates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about the flu and follow evidence-based protocols to prevent spread of the disease. Maine Medical Center’s Hospital Epidemiologist, August Valenti, M.D., answers some of our most frequently asked questions about this year’s flu season.

I hear we are seeing fewer cases of the flu in Maine. Is flu season coming to an end?

While MMC is seeing a decrease in the number of people coming to our ED and doctor’s offices with flu-like symptoms, it is too early to say that this year’s flu season is winding down. Typically, flu season lasts into April or May, and there can be multiple spikes.

Is it too late to get a flu shot?

It is not too late. In fact, MMC is continuing to recommend vaccination to anyone who has not yet received a shot. Flu season may last for two more months 

What precautions has Maine Medical Center taken to reduce the spread of flu?

Maine Medical Center has a standard, multifaceted response to any active flu season.

  • We are ensuring patients and visitors understand the importance of good hand hygiene by placing customer service representatives at our entrance. They encourage hand washing and the use of sanitizer, and they discourage those with respiratory illnesses from visiting patients. We also have signs throughout the hospital as a reminder.
  • Our care teams also follow our routine infection control practices:
    • Ensuring patients with respiratory illnesses are placed on appropriate precautions
    • Cleaning their work areas with appropriate disinfectants
    • Staying home if they are sick
    • Receiving a flu vaccine or wearing a mask when interacting with patients

How is the emergency department handling the number of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms?

  • MMC’s Emergency Department is prepared for increased numbers of patients with respiratory illness.
  • When there are an unusually high number of patients coming to the emergency department, staff expand triage areas and bring in extra help to ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible.
  • Most people with the flu are able to recover at home and do not need hospitalization. However, we do not discourage patients who feel they are acutely ill from coming to the hospital.

Is this year’s flu vaccine effective?

The CDC estimates this year’s vaccine is about 30 percent effective. The predominant strain of flu in Maine, H3N2, can be a challenge for vaccine manufacturers to fight. Still, MMC recommends everyone receive a flu vaccination. There are other strains of influenza that are circulating, and the vaccine can protect against those. Vaccination also can reduce the severity of flu.

Where do I get up-to-date, accurate information on the spread of flu in Maine?

The CDC is updating its website regularly and has a wealth of information on flu prevention.

How do I know if I have the flu?

Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)

It is possible to have vomiting and diarrhea with the flu, but it is uncommon in adults. Other viruses, such as norovirus, are more likely the cause.

What do I do if I get the flu?

  • Most people simply need to rest at home and drink plenty of fluids. The CDC recommends that you remain at home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of medication.
  • If you get the flu and are at high risk for complications because of your age or medical condition, you should contact your health care provider.
  • You should seek immediate medical attention if you have the following symptoms

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

In children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

Is there medication that can treat the flu?

Antiviral drugs can ease symptoms and shorten the time that you are sick with the flu by a day or two.

What can I do to prevent the spread of flu?

  • Vaccination remains the best protection against the flu. It is not too late to get vaccinated for this season.
  • Practice good hand hygiene:
    • Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer
    • Keep your hands away from your face
    • Sneeze into a tissue, then throw it away immediately and wash your hands
    • If tissues aren’t available, sneeze into your elbow
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Wipe down work place surfaces and equipment regularly, especially if someone you know has been sick has visited.
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Remain hydrated and eat well