CHICAGO, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A Chicago internist and emergency physician suggests Christmas may have contributed to this year's earlier than normal flu season.
In an opinion piece for CNN, David Zich of Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, wrote in his 12 years of practice in Chicago, this flu season definitely ranks as one of the worst he's seen.
"However, I also see no reason to be alarmed that we have a public health threat. What we are dealing with is a well-known virus. This outbreak is worse than average due to, more than anything, poor timing," Zich wrote.
"Though the predominant strain this year may be slightly more potent than average based on the number of cases we are seeing, there is no indication that this virus is markedly different from what we've seen in other years."
The percentage of influenza-related deaths is not higher than in previous outbreaks and federal health officials found no viral strains this season that were resistant to the drugs used to treat patients once they developed the flu.
"So, we need not worry too much about the virus. This year's flu vaccine is well matched to the strains of flu that have been circulating so we cannot blame an ineffective vaccine for the bad outbreak and the unusually warm weather should not be contributing to the severity of the outbreak because last year, it was also unusually warm, and we hypothesized the weather was partly responsible for a milder than normal flu season."
However, Zich said he started to see influenza-like illnesses starting roughly around mid-December -- just when holiday preparations and parties, increased stress and robbed people of sleep. Poor eating habits and overindulgences could have weakened the immune system.
"Once a person contracts the flu virus, he or she is contagious approximately 12 to 24 hours before the peak onset of symptoms, and is often contagious up to 24 hours after resolution of fever. During the holidays, many might tolerate their symptoms to join big groups of friends or family, or come together honestly unaware that they were contagious," Zich said.
"As a result, we have the perfect storm for the spread of influenza. In sum, our flu season this year is simply a product of poor timing."
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