Flu season officially begins next week

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By Calen McKinney

Flu season officially begins next week and officials say there haven't been any confirmed cases in Taylor County so far. And they say getting a flu shot is a good way to keep it that way.

Amy Tomlinson, public health preparedness manager for Lake Cumberland District Health Department, to which Taylor County Health Department belongs, said flu season begins in October and can last through May.

As of last week, she said there have been no confirmed cases of the flu in the state or the entire Lake Cumberland region.

Having the flu, Tomlinson said, feels different than having a cold.

"The flu usually comes on suddenly," she said.

People who have the flu often feel some or all of several symptoms, including fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.

Vomiting and diarrhea is more common in children than adults, she said, and it's good to know that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

To prevent getting the flu, Tomlinson's No. 1 suggestion is to get a flu shot.

Tomlinson said flu vaccine has begun shipping from manufacturers. Shipments will continue throughout the fall, she said, though she recommends people get their vaccinations early.

"Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a yearly vaccine," she said.

Nichole Gwilliam, director of educational services at Taylor Regional Hospital, said the Centers for Disease Control agrees.

"If you begin having symptoms of the flu, contact your physician or obtain medical treatment, avoid contact with others, wash your hands often and cover coughs and sneezes," she said.

Rodney Whitlock, infection control supervisor at TRH, said he, too, hasn't seen any positive flu tests yet this season.

Tomlinson said this year's flu season is predicted to be typical. Last year's flu season was typical but began a bit earlier than normal, she said.

Other suggestions to stay healthy, according to Tomlinson, include avoiding close contact with those who are sick, staying home when feeling sick, covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing hands often and avoiding touching the eyes and nose and mouth after touching something potentially contaminated.

"If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness," she said. "Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food."

Tomlinson said the flu can be mild, but in severe cases, could result in death.

"Most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs and will recover in less than two weeks," she said.

"Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that result in being hospitalized and occasionally result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse."

For example, she said, people who have asthma might experience attacks while they have the flu. People with chronic congestive heart failure might experience a worsening of this condition, she said, that is triggered by the flu.

Those likely to suffer flu-related complications if contracting the flu include children younger than 5 but especially younger than 2, adults age 65 and older and pregnant women.

Whitlock said it's important for pregnant women to know they can get a flu shot.

Tomlinson said the flu virus can be spread by person to person contact when people are as close as 6 feet away.

"Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk," she said. "These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose."

For those who touch a surface that they suspect has the flu virus on it, Tomlinson suggests washing their hands often with soap and water.

"If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first," she said. "Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill."

When a person has the flu, Tomlinson said, most healthy adults can infect other people beginning a day after their symptoms develop and for up to as many as seven days following.

"Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days," she said. "Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others."

When someone has the flu, Tomlinson said, antiviral drugs are typically prescribed to help kick the illness.

"Antiviral drugs fight influenza viruses in your body," she said. "They are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections."

Antiviral medications can lessen symptoms and shorten the time a person is sick by one or two days, Tomlinson said.

"Antiviral drugs also can prevent serious flu-related complications like pneumonia," she said. "This is especially important for people with a high-risk health condition like asthma, diabetes or chronic heart disease.

"Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While not 100 percent effective, a flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent influenza. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick."