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Flu Season

Have you had the flu this season?

If you can say “No,” keep doing what you’re doing to avoid it.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that this year’s strain of influenza virus, H3N2, is severely taxing hospitals and health care providers with one of the worst outbreaks in several years.  There have been thousands of fatalities nationwide, especially in high-risk groups that include young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart or lung disease. 

The flu vaccine is reported to have about a 30% effectiveness with the H3N2 strain this year, but that’s still better odds than not getting a flu shot.  Getting a flu shot every year is the best prevention step to take.  Additionally, try to avoid close contact with sick people.  Germs from a sneeze of an infected person can travel many feet in a wide arc, so always cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeved arm when you sneeze or cough.  Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water, and use of an alcohol-based hand rub, can limit the spread of the virus.   

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, which are conduits for introducing the virus into your system.  And don’t be timid in using household cleaners and disinfectants to kill viruses on surfaces and objects that are frequently handled. With a season this tough, it pays to do all you can to minimize your risk of exposure!  

As far as flying is concerned, the standard rules of engagement apply under FAR 61.53.  Because the symptoms may start out mimicking a potential cold or upper respiratory infection with a sore throat, runny nose, and feeling very tired and run down, the worst symptoms, if you are contracting the virus, can rapidly present after the initial onset.  If you’re planning a flight of a few hours, those hours in the airplane while getting more and more sick can be far less than pleasant, and potentially dangerous.  The bad actors in this scenario may include a fever and/or chills, muscle or body aching, headaches, and for some people who get the full complement of symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea can round out the presentation. The symptoms don’t all show up at once, but they can progress quickly once they start, and that is what makes this such a nasty strain of influenza  

Because influenza is a virus, antibiotic drugs don’t help. However, some of the complications of flu lead to a cascade of other potentially life-threatening problems such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections that might respond to antibiotic therapy.  Otherwise, depending upon the presentation, you may just be treating symptoms with over the counter antihistamines, cough suppressants, and decongestants, all of which can contain ingredients such as diphenhydramine that are sedating and can dull your mental capabilities.  All very good reasons to stay out of the airplane and in bed!   

Be healthy and fly safely! 

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
AOPA NACC (FDK)
Frederick, MD USA

Gary Crump

Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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