In addition to getting a flu vaccine everyone can do commonsense everyday prevention measures to help stop the spread of influenza:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use waterless hand sanitizers when away from water.
• Disinfect hot spots often—high touch areas where germs may be present—light switches, door knobs, remote controls, handles, phones, keyboards.
• Avoid crowds where germs may spread more easily.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• If you are sick, stay at home—go out only when necessary such as to your doctor—to prevent spreading illnesses to vulnerable populations. Wear a mask if you have one.
• Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing with a tissue and discard tissues in a waste container.
Contact your health care provider if you are a person at risk for severe complications of influenza, if you have been exposed or have the first signs of illness. Antiviral medicines that lessen the severity of influenza are most helpful if started within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.
For more information about influenza prevention or vaccines, contact the Barton County Health Department at 620-793-1902 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kansas is one of the 29 states reporting a high level of influenza-like illnesses according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Barton County Health Department Health Educator Janel Rose said Barton County and the surrounding area is no exception. Local health care providers are experiencing an increase in the number of people with such symptoms and the flu season seems to be arriving much earlier than in some years.
“The good news is that it is not too late to get protected against influenza,” Rose said. “Anyone who has not been vaccinated should get a flu vaccine as soon as possible so that they are protected before the peak of the flu season hits our local area.”
In most years, the highest number of influenza like illnesses in Kansas are reported in February. “It is hard to predict how severe this influenza season will be or how long it will last but early indications are that it might be severe,” she said.
Because there are a high number of ILI cases earlier than usual and based on past flu outbreaks, this year’s flu season length might stray from the average of 12 weeks up to 16 or 19 weeks. “Reports of influenza-like-illness (ILI) are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons,” said Dr. Joe Bresee with the Center for Disease Control’s Influenza Division.
“Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now,” Bresee said. And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated.
One of several ways the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tracks the flu is by monitoring the percentage of patients seeking care in selected outpatient clinics for ILI, in a system known as ILINet.
“The typical peak for cases of ILI in Kansas occurs in February, and the rates we are observing now are higher and earlier than what we usually see,” said State Health Officer and KDHE Secretary Robert Moser.
Last week (ending Jan. 5), the rate of ILI among patients seeking care at ILINet sites was approximately 6.4 percent. During the previous (2011-2012) influenza season, this rate peaked at 3.4 percent the week ending March 10, the latest peak of an influenza season in Kansas since surveillance began in 1995.
KDHE also closely monitors influenza-related deaths. During the 2011-2012 influenza season, influenza and pneumonia, a common complication of influenza, contributed to or directly caused more than 1,300 deaths among Kansas residents, and was the eighth leading underlying cause of death in 2011. In the current influenza season, more than 460 influenza and pneumonia deaths have been reported to date.
Influenza vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone six months of age and older to reduce the risk of becoming ill with the flu and reduce the risk of spreading the flu to others. This is especially important for anyone at high risk of complications, and for anyone who is caring for, or in regular contact with, an infant less than six months of age. Babies this age are too young to be vaccinated and are more vulnerable to the complications from influenza.
Symptoms of influenza include fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration; influenza may also worsen other chronic conditions.