Cold and flu season is upon us

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With winter temperatures now upon us, colds, the flu, coughs, stomach bugs and more are impacting Central Iowans. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests getting your flu shot as early as October, it is not too late to do so now.

Reports of influenza are sporadic in Iowa, but are expected to peak in January and February. How can you tell if you’re sick with the flu and not a cold?

“Muscle and joint pain is more common with the flu than with a cold,” said Marshall County Public Nurse Pat Thompson. “People with the flu also report having a fever, being tired, having a sore throat, dry cough, and red, watery eyes.”

Also, having symptoms come on suddenly is another indicator the illness is the flu and not just a cold.

Thompson noted one major change to this year’s flu vaccine.

“We’re not offering the nasal mist anymore because it is not as effective against the H1N1 strain,” she said.

What if you’ve already had influenza this season?

“Still get the shot, because you may have only had one strain, so you can still develop the others,” Thompson said. “Getting a shot is better protection.”

Vaccine viruses included in the 2017-18 U.S. trivalent influenza vaccines are as follows: A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus, an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus, and a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (Victoria lineage). Quadrivalent influenza vaccines will contain those three viruses, and an additional influenza B vaccine virus, a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (Yamagata lineage).

Keep your symptoms contained by staying hydrated, eating a balanced meal, resting, and staying home. Anti-viral medication, available through a doctor only, may shorten the illness.

The flu shot is recommended to all people age six months and older. It takes about two weeks after receiving the flu vaccine for it to reach its full potential.

“If you get sick after getting the flu shot, it didn’t make you sick — you probably had already been exposed to the flu,” Thompson said.

Nurses employed in the Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) have been busy treating sick pupils.

“MCSD has seen a variety of illnesses in its buildings, from upper respiratory viruses, strep, mono, and viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu),” said District Nurse/Marshalltown High School Nurse Stacey Tool-Crawford. “At MHS we have seen an increase in illness-related absences over the past week. It is that time of year when we see more seasonal illnesses.”

The nurses recommend students be kept home from school if a fever reaches 100.4 degrees or higher, and/or experience any of the following: persistent nasal congestion, reddened eyes, sore throat, cough or headaches that disrupts the student’s learning, or are contagious.

“Students who have had diarrhea or vomiting should be free of symptoms for 24 hours before returning. Prevention is the key — get a flu shot — it is not too late. Wash hands, and stay home if you’re sick,” Tool-Crawford added.

If you are unsure as to whether or not to keep your child home, phone your school’s nurse, who can offer insight into what decision to make.

Flu vaccines are readily available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other health centers, covered by many insurance plans as it is “preventative care.” To find the nearest location in which to receive a flu shot visit: vaccinefinder.org

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com