TRAVERSE CITY — The sniffling, moaning, coughing and groaning are undeniable — flu season is here.
Local cases are still at an early-season low, said Megan Priebe, Munson Healthcare infection prevention coordinator, coming in at just three or so.
But it won’t stay that way.
“We’re still in that kind of sporadic (part of the season) looking at influenza,” Priebe said. “We typically start to see more cases, you know, with the holiday season coming up. That December, January, February time frame.”
It’s too early to say, she added, whether this year’s counts will fall similarly to last year’s average flu season.
And too early to know what strains the winter will bring.
But locals should stay vigilant — a Harvard Medical School release suggests the 2019-2020 cold will bring a nasty flu season with it.
Priebe said there’s an easy fix.
“Really, the No. 1 thing is to get a flu vaccine,” she said. “That can help prevent (you from getting sick), really helps build that herd immunity.”
Anyone who can get vaccinated should, she said — that includes anyone 6 months or older who isn’t allergic to a flu shot.
It’s particularly important for vulnerable populations, like pregnant women and new mothers, those older than 65, people with chronic conditions and nursing home residents.
“That should really be a conversation between a patient and their health care provider,” Priebe said.
Flu season typically starts in late October or early November and runs through late spring. Trends show flu activity tends to peak between December and February.
Symptoms include fever, aches, chills, cough and congestion, runny nose, fatigue and headaches.
This year’s season comes with a new option for older locals. A Fluzone High-Dose vaccine was approved for use earlier this month, and like other vaccines contains the three strains most likely to be behind this year’s outbreaks.
It tends to work better for older patients who don’t respond as well to a normal flu shot, according to the Harvard release, because it contains four times as much flu virus antigen, which is what stimulates the body to build up an immunity to the disease.
Older people produce 50 percent to 75 percent fewer antibodies in response to a flu shot than younger adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. Studies show that a high-dose flu vaccine can make up for that difference, with one study showing there were 25 percent fewer cases in those 65 and older who took the high-dose vaccine.
“I think they have high hopes for it,” said Priebe, adding she’s aware of, but not too familiar with, the new vaccine.
Frequent hand washing, keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth and staying home when you encounter flu-like symptoms also help. Priebe adds that you should cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.
“We hope that people follow proper precautions to reduce the risk to the population — making sure they’re getting their vaccines, making sure they’re performing proper hand hygiene,” Priebe said. “Really making sure they’re using cough etiquette when out and about in the community.”
Eating a balanced diet, staying active and getting enough sleep keeps your immune system at its best, according to the Harvard release. It also notes using an in-home humidifier can be a boon — flu viruses survive longer in dry conditions, which is why they thrive in winter months.
If you do get sick, Priebe said, you should probably stay home.
And call your doctor.