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Flu Season Is At Its Peak. Here's What You Need To Know.

David Castillo Dominici

Global health organizations have put themselves on high alert over the coronavirus, a deadly illness that originated in China, and has made it's way to the United States, with one reported case in Washington state.


United States health officials are urging calm in the face of that new threat -- and reminding Americans that it's more likely they'll encounter a good old-fashioned flu bug than the coronavirus.

The influenza virus is more than just a bad cold. Flu spreads easily and complications caused by the illness can be deadly.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that so far this season, there have been at least 13 million flu illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations and 6,600 deaths from the flu. 


To find out more about the flu, some common misconceptions about the virus and what we all need to know to stay healthy, we reached out to Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, Chief of General Internal Medicine at the University of Miami Health System, UHealth.


You can read some lightly edited highlights and listen to that conversation below:



WLRN: How do state and federal health officials measure a “bad” flu season?

Carrasquillo: In general, it's how quickly the [flu] activity takes on and also how many deaths there have been.

What are the first symptoms of the flu and how do they differ from the first signs of other respiratory infections?

It's one of the most common questions we get: how do I know if it's the flu or a cold? Because a lot of the symptoms are quite similar. The flu knocks you out almost immediately; a cold is a more gradual onset. The flu is the kind of thing where you're fine and two days later, you can't get up—you're very ill. The flu also has very high temperatures—102, 103, 104. That's unusual for a regular cold, typically. And the flu has a lot of severe muscle pain. That's also unusual in a cold.

What are the most dangerous complications that can lead to death—and who is most at risk?

Influenza can give you pneumonia. Usually, the people most affected are young children and the elderly and people with other diseases that weaken the immune system. For example, diabetes is a very common one.

What kind of protection does a flu shot provide?

On average, the vaccine is about 50 percent effective. That means that if you yourself get the flu shot, there's no guarantee. If you have somebody at high risk, you have to make sure everyone around that person is vaccinated.

What would you say is the most common myth surrounding the flu or the flu shot?

The flu shot does NOT give you the flu! It's not medically possible based on the content of the vaccine. But you still hear a lot of people repeating this myth. Sometimes people get the flu shot during flu season—and it takes a couple of weeks for some people to get sick either with a cold or flu virus. And they're very likely to blame it on the vaccine when it had nothing to do with the vaccine. Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation out there about the flu vaccine that's not rooted in science.

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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