Susan Patterson: Flu is in full swing
By Susan Patterson
Rowan County Health Department
The 2014 Influenza season is well into swing now. Influenza (flu) is a viral illness of the respiratory system. Flu season can last from October to May each year. It is important to recognize symptoms of the flu and protect yourself and your family against it.
Infants, children, seniors, pregnant women, and some people with disabilities or special health-care needs are at a higher risk for catching the flu. Symptoms of the flu can include:
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- body aches
- possibly vomiting or diarrhea
Taking preventative measures is the best way to avoid getting the flu this season. Influenza vaccines are offered each year. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that everyone 6 months of age and over receives the flu vaccine annually. People with certain health conditions may not qualify to receive the vaccine – check with your health-care provider or pharmacist to see if you are eligible. If you have not received a flu shot yet this year, it is recommended you get one as soon as possible to decrease your chances of getting and spreading the flu. Check with your doctor the Rowan County Health Department or pharmacy about getting the flu vaccine.
For the 2014-2015 Flu Season, the CDC recognizes that some influenza A viruses have drifted or mutated. This means that the flu vaccine may not protect fully against those particular mutated viruses. It is very important that people still receive the flu vaccine as it protects against many strains of the flu virus. The CDC indicates that this year’s flu vaccine will also provide people with some protection against the mutated influenza A viruses, which may decrease severe outcomes such as hospitalization or death.
Other preventative measures include:
- frequent handwashing
- cleaning/sanitizing surfaces
- avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth
Frequent handwashing is the best way to eliminate germs. To properly wash your hands, scrub with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice.
If you begin having any symptoms of the flu, it is important to avoid contact with other people and cover your cough to help prevent spreading the virus to other people. Lab tests can be performed by your health-care provider to determine if the symptoms you are having are from the influenza virus or some other illness. Stay home from work or school if you think you may have the flu.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives advice on a government website, FLU.GOV, on how to treat the flu. Treatment at home includes:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of clear fluids like water, broth or sports drinks to prevent dehydration
- placing a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead to help reduce fever
- gargling salt water for sore throat
- putting a humidifier in your room to make breathing easier
- taking over-the-counter medications for fever, cough, congestion or sore throat
It is best to consult your health care provider before taking any medications and especially when taking more than one medication. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for fever include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). OTC decongestants can be used to help loosen up nasal congestion and OTC cough medications or cough drops can be used to help reduce coughing. If you visit your health care provider, you may be prescribed antiviral medications. Antiviral medications can help to reduce the severity and length of your illness from the flu.
As the influenza virus continues to make people sick this season, remember that preventative measures can help to keep you and your loved ones from becoming ill. Proper handwashing, cleaning/sanitation, and having your annual flu vaccine all promote health and aid in prevention of the flu. If you are having symptoms of the flu, avoid contact with other people and consult your health-care provider.
For more information about immunizations or to make an appointment at the Rowan County Health Department, call 704-216-8837 or visit the Rowan County Health Department Web site at www.rowancountync.gov/healthdepartment .
Patterson is a child care health consultant for the Rowan County Health Department.