Safeguarding against the flu

Influenza activity in Iowa is ‘wide-spread’

Influenza activity in Iowa is classified as “wide-spread.” According to a recent statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “Flu activity has increased sharply in the United States in recent weeks, with widespread activity reported in 49 states (not in Hawaii) in the last CDC FluView report. While flu vaccination is the most important way to prevent influenza, antiviral drugs are the most important way to treat influenza infection

Everywhere you go it seems someone is battling the sniffles, dealing with a cough, or enduring intestinal pain. Schools, workplaces, gyms, restaurants and anyplace where the general public gathers, can all be fertile grounds for coming into contact with common viral infections.

According to a recent statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “Flu activity has increased sharply in the United States in recent weeks, with widespread activity reported in 49 states (not in Hawaii) in the last CDC FluView report. While flu vaccination is the most important way to prevent influenza, antiviral drugs are the most important way to treat influenza infection. Studies have shown that early treatment with a flu antiviral drug can shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and can reduce the risk of serious flu complications.”

These antiviral drugs, including oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), or peramivir (Rapivab) are available only with a prescription.

Pupils enrolled in the Marshalltown Community School District have been dealing with a variety of sicknesses.

“We have seen a rise in the rates of absences in a couple of our elementary schools; however the other schools have noted average rates of absences due to illness,” said Marshalltown School District Nurse Stacey Tool-Crawford. “We have not seen one specific illness at high rates, but we have had scattered reports of Influenza A, Influenza B, strep, various upper respiratory illnesses and stomach flu (vomiting/diarrhea) throughout all the buildings.”

While flu season is in full-swing, there is still time to get a flu shot.

“Everyone that can get a flu shot should get a flu shot. It is not too late,” said Marshall County Public Health Nurse Pat Thompson. “Also, please remember that the flu shot protects against four different influenza viruses so even if you have been unfortunate enough to have had the flu, there are three more viruses floating around that you would be protected from … You are contagious from 24 to 72 hours after contracting the influenza virus (before symptomatic) and remain that way for up to five days after the onset of symptoms.”

It takes two weeks after receiving a flu shot for the body to develop the needed antibodies to provide protection.

Certain segments of the population, including small children and the elderly, are most vulnerable. Pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk for complications.

The CDC reports that “A total of 8,990 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported between October 1, 2017 and January 13, 2018. The overall hospitalization rate was 31.5 per 100,000 population.”

Even if you are not sick, it is likely you may come into close contact with someone who is.

“Anyone caring for vulnerable populations needs to have a flu shot. That way, you are less likely to contract the flu and decrease the risk of infecting anyone else. If you have influenza you need to seclude yourself as much as you can from others by staying in a room with the door closed,” Thompson added.

Wearing a surgical mask, especially out in public, may not make the greatest fashion statement, but it can help protect you against germs, and keep others safe if you are sick.

Influenza tends to peak from now through February, but activity can last into May.

Tool-Crawford said there are ways for kids to help protect themselves from getting sick.

“Wash hands frequently, eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and avoid close contact with sick people,” she said. “[When a child is sick] over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol, Motrin, and Multi symptom cold/cough medications can help minimize the discomforts of cold and flu season. Tamiflu may be prescribed by your provider if diagnosed with Influenza within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Antibiotics are prescribed if a bacterial infection is diagnosed by your provider.”

While children may be disappointed in not being able to participate in extracurricular activities while sick, it’s the best way to contain illnesses.

“If a student has a fever over 100.4 degrees, severe uncontrollable cough, and if vomiting or diarrhea has occurred within 24 hours, please keep the student home to prevent spreading the illness to others and to allow time for recovery,” Tool-Crawford said. “We ask that a student be free of fever for 24 hours before they return to school. If you are unsure if your child should come to school, please contact the school nurse in your child’s building.”

Flu vaccines are readily available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other health centers, and 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