Team Dover’s Med Group advises on how to combat flu, stay ready

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- “Influenza activity increased again according to the latest FluView report,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report published last week. “All U.S. states but Hawaii and Oregon continue to report widespread flu activity and the number of states experiencing high influenza-like illness activity increased to 43 states plus New York City, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.”

The report states the current number of infected patients is the highest observed since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

In Delaware, there were 995 laboratory-confirmed cases during the fifth week of the confirmed flu season according to the Delaware Weekly Influenza Report published February 3 by the Delaware Division of Public Health, the most current report published by the organization. This brings the state total of confirmed illnesses up to 2,966.

“Reports of influenza-like illness (ILI) received from participating providers, facilities and institutions in Delaware show ILI is 3.5 percent compared with Delaware’s 2017-18 baseline of 2 percent,” the Delaware report states. “Nationally, ILI is 7.7 percent compared with the 2017-18 national baseline of 2.2 percent.”

At this point, hospitals and emergency rooms are filled beyond capacity. There seems to be more patients suffering from the flu than medical practices can treat.

Lt. Col. Douglas Riley, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Public Health Flight commander, said this year’s prevailing flu strain does seem a little nastier than average, but the best defense is a good offense: through immunization – it still isn’t too late to get the vaccine – and maintaining good common sense practices like frequent handwashing and avoiding those ill with the flu.

Team Dover Airmen are responsible for providing global reach every day of the year and with such a big responsibility, knowing how to defend against the flu is vital to the team’s mission.

Know the signs:

“Influenza viruses typically circulate widely in the United States annually, from the late fall through the early spring,” according to a CDC seasonal vaccine recommendation. “Although most persons with influenza will recover without [consequential medical conditions], influenza can cause serious illness and death, particularly among older adults, very young children, pregnant women, and those with certain chronic medical conditions.”

Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and pain, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose or a cough. Anyone presenting these symptoms should seek medical care.

If after seemingly recovering from the flu, a patient begins to experience a “rebound fever,” this could be a sign of a severe, possibly life-threatening condition, and should seek immediate care, Riley said.

Where to go:

Children and elderly members presenting symptoms of fever, cough and muscle aches should be seen by a medical professional. If a timely appointment with the patient’s normal healthcare provider cannot be scheduled, the affected person should be seen at an urgent care facility. At this point in time, local emergency rooms have not been able to keep up with the medical needs of those affected by the flu.

More importantly, if someone develops a “rebound fever” after the symptoms have seemingly gone away, they should immediately go to the closest emergency room, as this could indicate a severe, possibly life-threatening medical condition, Riley said.

What is the flu and what can Team Dover do to stay healthy?:

“The average size of the virus that causes influenza is on average 130 nanometers, or 1/100th the size of a bacterium,” Riley said. “That is very small. With that in mind … there are only a few things we can do. The primary method to control a disease is immunization.”

Military members are required to receive flu vaccines, however there is no such requirement for military dependents. In fact, Riley said many of Team Dover’s dependents have not been immunized this year.

The good news is, the 436th Medical Group does have plenty of vaccines on hand, so dependents and retirees should consider scheduling an appointment with their healthcare provider now.

It’s never too late to receive the vaccine, according to the CDC. While vaccination is recommended prior to the flu season, the CDC recommends medical professionals continue vaccinating throughout the flu season.

In addition to vaccination, Riley urges Team Dover to use what he calls “common sense” practices.

“Practice normal infection control procedures, better called common sense,” Riley said. “Social distance from people who are sick, or if you are sick, stay a safe distance away from others, or better, minimize activities in the general population. Use good cough etiquette. The virus is spread on droplets when we cough and this can be reduced by coughing into your elbow – not your hand, or into a handkerchief, a cloth that is used for coughing into. Finally, and maybe most important, is frequent and thorough handwashing.”

It can be difficult to determine when the flu season will start during any given year, Riley added.

“There are many flu viruses and they are constantly changing,” reads a CDC document titled “What’s New for the 2017-2018 Flu Season.” It continues, “The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common.”

Likewise, it’s not possible to definitively know which influenza strains will be pervasive in any given year, leaving scientists to make educated decisions based on trends observed since the 1982-83 season.

“In any given season, the optimal time to vaccinate cannot be predicted precisely because influenza seasons vary in timing and duration,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seasonal vaccine recommendation . “Moreover, more than one outbreak might occur in a given community in a single year. In the United States, localized outbreaks that indicate the start of the seasonal influenza activity can occur as early as October.

“However, in 74 percent of influenza seasons from 1982-83 through 2015-16, peak influenza activity – which often is close to the midpoint of influenza activity for the season – has not occurred until January or later, and in 59 percent of seasons, the peak was in February or later.”

This year’s flu season appears to come on the later end of the spectrum, with the current uptick of flu occurrences, said Riley. Officials speculate this flu season could extend into May.

What role does Team Dover play in fighting the flu?:

In addition to providing vaccinations and treating the symptoms of those infected by the flu, the medical professionals of Dover AFB play a significant role in the vaccination process as a “Sentinel Site,” Riley said. The 436th Medical Group sends samples from infected patients to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where scientists compile information about flu trends and determine which strains the next year’s immunization should protect against.

The bottom line:

“It’s an imperfect process, but it’s the best we’ve got,” Riley said. “The vaccine is the best means of protection from a vaccine-preventable disease. The level of protection should not be a concern, as any level of protection is better than none, and the vaccine will help decrease the length of the illness and severity if you do become infected. Please make sure you are immunized.”

In addition to working closely with other military agencies and the CDC, Riley applauds the partnership Dover AFB has with the state of Delaware.

“We have a very developed relationship with our state partners and meet often to share information and craft methods to help reduce disease within the populations that live in the state,” Riley said. “These meetings also involve the hospitals that reside within the state, the long-term healthcare facilities, emergency management services and the Department of Agriculture. Together, Team Dover Medical is working hand-in-glove with the local, state and federal organizations daily to track the flu and do whatever possible to keep the men and women of Team Dover, their dependents and the local retirees safe from the flu, healthy and more, to ensure the success of the mission that defines Dover AFB – Global Reach.”

For more information about the flu, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/index.html, http://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss//dph/index.html or contact your local healthcare provider.