Seasonal influenza, more commonly known as the "flu," is on the rise again this year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 states have reported widespread influenza activity for the 2007-08 flu season.
The Clay County Health Department recently released a list of frequently asked questions regarding seasonal influenza.
When does flu season occur?
Influenza season usually starts in late fall and lasts throughout the winter, and sometimes into early spring. An easy way to remember is, "from autumn leaves to spring flowers."
CDC recommendations are high-risk people should be immunized first, starting in September, with other people to follow in October and through the winter.
How is influenza spread?
Influenza is a serious respiratory illness and is spread by coughing or sneezing and unclean hands. Influenza is spread easily in crowded places where people are in close proximity to each other.
How can people prevent spreading the influenza virus?
* Clean hands often with soap and water (wash at least 20 seconds) or an alcohol-based hand cleaner when soap and water are not available.
* Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
* If possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick (stay at least 3-feet away).
* When coughing or sneezing, cover the mouth and nose with a tissue and then dispose of the used tissue in a waste basket.
* If no tissue are available, sneeze or cough into a sleeve.
* After coughing or sneezing, always clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
* Stay at home when sick.
* Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels, or other personal items.
* Consider wearing a mask to help protect others when in public places, such as a doctor's office.
* Always keep an emergency kit, including food, water and other supplies to last at least two weeks in case confined within a home.
Is it possible to catch the flu from animals?
In rare cases, humans may also catch flu germs from an infected bird, pig, or other animal. This could happen through contact with feces, saliva, mucus, or raw meat or eggs from an animal. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry and eggs and clean surfaces well after contact with raw products. This helps kill flu viruses or other germs that might be present.
What are the symptoms of influenza?
Symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, body aches, sore throat, coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath. These symptoms usually occur from two to 10 days from exposure.
What are antiviral medications?
A doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to treat or prevent influenza. Influenza antiviral drugs decrease the ability of flu viruses to reproduce. These medications should be started within two days after becoming sick. When used this way, these drugs can lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten the time of illness by one to two days. They may also make a person less contagious to other people.
Why get vaccinated?
Influenza is highly contagious and anyone who wants to avoid the flu should consider vaccination with the advice of a physician. Influenza can lead to serious illness, such as pneumonia and in some cases, death. It is important to get vaccinated annually because different influenza virus strains develop each year.
By reducing the risk of influenza, people help to protect others around them, especially those who are at high risk, including the elderly, small children and people with health conditions.
How effective is the vaccine?
Flu vaccines must be prepared months in advance of the flu season. Because of this, effectiveness of flu vaccines depend on how closely matched the vaccines are to the circulating viruses. Therefore, some years, the flu vaccine has a higher rate of effectiveness than others.
However, flu vaccines continue to provide some protection, even when not closely matched, because the human body produces antibodies (cross-protection) that provides protection against related strains of influenza viruses to lessen illness and help prevent flu-related complications.
What are the two types of influenza vaccinations?
The two types of influenza vaccines are inactivated (killed) vaccine, known as the flu shot, which is given by injection into the muscle and the live, attenuated (weakened) vaccine, called LAIV, that is sprayed into the nostrils.
Who should receive the inactivated vaccine?
The CDC recommends people 6 months of age and older may receive inactivated influenza vaccine. It is recommended for anyone who is at risk of complication from influenza or more likely to require medical care, including:
* All children from 6 months up to age 5,
* Anyone aged 50 years and older,
* Children and adolescents (aged 6 months to 18-years-old) receiving long-term aspirin therapy,
* Women who will be pregnant during the flu season,
* Anyone with long-term health problems,
* Anyone with a weakened immune system,
* Anyone with certain muscle or nerve disorders,
* Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities,
* Healthcare personnel,
* Health household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children less than 5 and adults 50-and-over,
* Healthy household contacts (including children) and caregivers of persons with medical conditions that put them at higher risk,
* People living in dormitories or under other crowded conditions,
* People at high risk of influenza complication who travel to the Southern hemisphere, and
* People who provide essential community services.
Who should receive the live, attenuated vaccine?
Live, attenuated intranasal vaccine is approved for healthy people from 2-49-years-old, who are not pregnant. This includes people who can spread the flu to others who are at high risk, such as household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children, in addition to physicians and nurses and family members.
Live, attenuated vaccines may also be considered for people who provide essential community services and people living in dormitories or under other crowded conditions to prevent outbreaks.
People should consult with a doctor before getting vaccinated if they have ever had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or to any component of the flu vaccine, or if they have ever had a history of Guillaini-Barre Syndrome or if they are moderately or severely ill at the time a vaccination is scheduled.
Those who have been vaccinated may still get the flu as a vaccine may not provide full protection against new strains. However, those people who get the flu after being vaccinated often have milder cases.
For more information, call the Clay County Health Department at 448-9019 or visit the organization's website at www.claycountyin.gov.