This year’s flu season has been one of the most deadly in recent memory.
H3N2, the flu of the moment, has been noted for being aggressive and rapidly mutating. Even though the World Health Organization developed a flu vaccine earlier this year to target this strain, it mutated just enough to make the vaccine practically useless. At this point in time, it’s only 30% effective.
This year, there have been 81,000 confirmed influenza cases at clinical and public health labs. Additionally, there were 8,990 confirmed hospitalizations and 30 pediatric deaths that were associated with influenza. 80% of the influenzas were, you guessed it, H3N2.
As runners, these statistics don’t usually scare us. Our immune systems are known for being quite robust. Back when I was in college, my whole dorm hallway was knocked out with the stomach flu and I was the only one still kicking.
This year, the flu took one of our own, Katie Denise Oxley Thomas. Katie was a 40-year-old mother and avid runner. She ran marathons competitively. She also got a flu shot annually. Within 48 hours of her symptoms manifesting, Thomas passed away.
And no, this was not just a one-off case. A 21-year-old bodybuilder named Kyle Baughman also passed away earlier this month. He died at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center after suffering organ failure due to septic shock caused by influenza.
Things always get much more real when they’re happening in your own backyard. 5-20% of the U.S. population will contract the flu each year. This year, the CDC warns that H3N2 is particularly dangerous. It’s not the flu killing people. When an individual gets the flu, it rocks the immune system. Then, they get a deadly bacterial infection. Think along the lines of pneumonia.
The CDC says these are the most common flu symptoms to watch out for:
- Fever, or feeling feverish/chills
- Cough and sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Headaches and fatigue (very tired)
- Vomiting and diarrhea, though this is most common in young children.
The CDC recommends still getting a flu shot. Even though it’s notoriously less effective this year, it can still ease symptoms of the flu should you end up getting it. Flu shots also ensure that you don’t make others in your home or workplace (especially the most vulnerable) susceptible to illness.
Make sure to also:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Always cough and sneeze into a sleeve or tissue to avoid spreading bacteria
- Stay away from public places if you are already sick
If you’re healthy, continue exercising. Nothing wrong with giving yourself a little immune boost during flu season. However, if the flu lays you out, it’s important to take a few rest days and see the doctor right away. The sooner you get medication to fight the flu, the faster it leaves your system.
As runners, we’re a stubborn bunch. This past month, I myself had a bit of flu denial. I ended up down for the count over two weeks with a cough that I just couldn’t shake. Take it from me, a few days of rest is better than weeks of running while feeling like garbage.