Increased awareness needed for flu-season

Published 3:00 am Friday, December 19, 2014

The Center for Disease Control recently released a “flu alert” warning individuals that this year’s flu strain might be harder to tackle.

There have been approximately 1,028 laboratory-confirmed influenza-related hospitalizations since Oct. 1 of this year. While the numbers reported do not reflect every hospitalization for the flu or flu-like diseases, the CDC is still calling for an increased awareness of the flu and flu-related symptoms.

The CDC is reporting a mutated, or slightly evolved, strand of influenza A, or H3N2, which has changed significantly since the 2012 H3N2 vaccine was produced. Flu viruses are in a constant stage of change and mutation and these changes or adaptations may occur over time or suddenly.

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“Generally speaking, the A strain seems to be more severe in its symptoms and the duration seems to be a bit longer,” said Corey Kirkland, assistant administrator for Public Health Area 10, which includes Pike County, with the health department. “From year to year it’s hard to determine the strain. We recommend that people try and get the flu vaccine as soon as you can, because it takes a few weeks to build up immunity. Even though the strain has drifted a little bit in the type of flu that it is, there is still evidence that the vaccine does help. Plus, there are two or three other strains floating around, and those strains are covered by that shot. You can protect yourself from those strains and potentially others.”

A flu vaccine protects an individual from that season’s most common strands of influenza. And, while some feel the flu vaccine might be unnecessary, Emily Hartwig, Walgreens information specialist, said the flu vaccine was an individual’s best protection from the flu.

“The flu vaccine is still your best bet for protection,” Hartwig said. “The vaccine is covered by most insurances making it free for individuals. The best protection is the shot.”

Other precautions the CDC recommends individuals take in hopes to prevent catching the flu include takng everyday precautions such as washing hands, covering coughs and limiting interaction with sick people.

“One thing that helps to prevent the flu is just basic hygiene stuff that we have all heard many times before,” Kirkland said. “This includes good hand washing, and hand washing often, covering your cough and using the bend in your arm for that. I always urge parents with kids to work on hand washing and covering cough, as children generally share toys.”

Kirkland also suggests if possible, that an individual with flu-like or flu-related symptoms to take off from work and keep themselves out of situations that could potentially spread the disease until symptoms have subsided.

If you know you are high risk for the flu or flu-related complication and experience flu-like symptoms, the CDC is requesting individuals to immediately contact a healthcare provider who can prescribe anti-viral medications, which work best when started within two days of symptom onset.