FLU SHOT

Flu activity is currently widespread throughout Missouri, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services.

To date, 11,171 cases of influenza have been reported in Missouri, and 11 people have died from influenza-associated illness this season. Nationally, flu activity remains high, and forecasts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that it will remain elevated for several more weeks.

As of Friday, 32 pediatric deaths have been reported nationwide this season, according to the CDC. Influenza B viruses have been reported more frequently than other influenza viruses. This type can cause severe illness in people of all ages, including children.

In past seasons, say health officials, the percentage of influenza B viruses detected in children who died with influenza has generally been higher than the percentage of B viruses detected in the general pediatric population, and pediatric mortality from influenza B-associated hospitalizations has been reported to be higher than with influenza A-associated hospitalizations.

Flu vaccination remains the best way to prevent the flu and its potentially serious complications. Not only can it prevent flu, DHSS officials note, it has also been shown in several studies to reduce the severity of illness in vaccinated people who still get sick.  A CDC study, which looked at data from four flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half (51%) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65%) among healthy children.

“The high level of activity nationwide is concerning,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “While we have not yet experienced the level of flu activity of all of our neighboring states, the traditional peak time of the season is still forthcoming. Now is the time to protect yourself and your children with a flu shot. It’s not too late.”

He added DHSS is also encouraging antiviral medication for those at high risk for flu complications, including children younger than 2 years old, to reduce death and serious illness.

Anyone over the age of 6 months is encouraged to be vaccinated. Pregnant women are also highly encouraged to receive the vaccination in order to protect the baby after birth and before it is old enough to receive its own vaccination. Antibodies can be passed onto the developing baby during the mother’s pregnancy.

The CDC recommends antiviral medications for the treatment of influenza, because antiviral treatment has shown clinical and public health benefit in reducing illness and lessening severe outcomes of influenza.

FLU PREVENTION

- Get a yearly flu vaccination.

- Avoid close contact with sick people.

- Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

- Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash use.

- Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth.

- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.

- Stay home while sick and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

HOW THE FLU SPREADS

Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with the virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.

Many other viruses spread in the same way. People infected with flu may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.

That means an infected person may be able to spread the flu to someone else before knowing he or she is sick as well as while actively ill. Young children, those who are severely ill and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than five to seven days.

FLU SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

- Fever or feeling feverish/chills

- Cough

- Sore throat

- Runny or stuffy nose

- Muscle or body aches

- Headaches

- Fatigue (tiredness)

- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

FLU CARE

Most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. Someone sick with flu symptoms should drink plenty of water and other clear liquids to prevent dehydration, get plenty of rest and treat symptoms such as fever with over-the-counter medicines.

In addition, a person sick with the flue should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care, for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

Remember that groups of people at high risk for flu-related complications include children age 5 and younger, adults older than 65, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Anyone with symptoms of the flu and who is in a high risk group or anyone with questions or concerns should contact their primary health care provider.

For more information or to find a flu vaccine location near you, call the local health department. In Howell County, the number to call is 256-7078. The health department is at180 Kentucky Ave. in West Plains. Business hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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