Flu coming through

Stephanie Vallez · Tuesday, January 16, 2018
It seems like everyone has been sick with something, as though there are a million viruses going around right now. It seems like flu season hit early and hit hard.

And it doesn’t just seem that way, the CDC warns that this flu season is especially nasty this year. Widespread influenza is everywhere, and it’s not going away any time soon.

By now we all know someone who has had something unpleasant. Even the West Liberty Index’s own editor, Jacob Lane has been down with the flu.

And for those who got the flu shot, it will only be about 32 percent effective this year, according to the CDC data.

Daniel Jernigan, head of the CDC’s influenza division, told reporters in a press briefing last Friday that “there’s at least eleven to thirteen more weeks of influenza to go.”

There are several different variants of the influenza virus going around right now and the entire continental United States is seeing high levels of flu pretty much everywhere.

However, Jernigan says we’ve seen worse.

The overall rate of hospitalization this year has been high at about 23 people per 100,000. Three years ago, during the 2014-2015 flu season, hospitalization was as 30 people per 100,000.

But it’s still early, and the numbers can change.

“We have a lot of flu season to get through still,” Jernigan said.

As always, knowing is half the battle, and there are a lot of mistaken ideas about the flu. Your best plan for staying safe will be understanding the signs and symptoms, what they mean and what to do.

The influenza virus seems a lot like a bad cold. Symptoms may include congestion, sore throat, fever, headaches, body aches, fatigue and chills. People who have the flu may be coughing and sneezing.

Symptoms will last for seven to ten days, and it may even take up to two weeks to feel better. The flu doesn’t usually include vomiting and diarrhea, although they may occur.

Typically, the vomiting and diarrhea that’s been going around is not actually the flu. It is still commonly called the stomach flu, but the influenza virus doesn’t really attack the digestive system. The virus that causes those symptoms is usually a variant of the norovirus, which spreads like wildfire and lasts about 24 hours.

West Liberty’s School Nurse, Julie Yoerger, has seen the whole range of wintry illnesses at the Elementary School.

“We’ve been seeing influenza A and B, also a lot of strep throat. We have seen diarrhea and vomiting as well,” Yoerger said.

Yoerger wants parents and the community at large to know that the rules for preventing the spread of illness before returning to school or work are that you must be fever-free for 24 hours without medication.

If you’ve had the vomiting and diarrhea, 24 hours without vomiting. If you still feel sick, stay home.

“You’re still spreading it if you’re not feeling good,” Yoerger said.

The best health advice is always handwashing. It can really dry the skin in these cold temperatures, but handwashing remains our best defense against germs of all kinds.

“You can’t even stress that enough,” Yoerger said.

However, most people don’t wash their hands like the school nurse does. Proper handwashing matters, and if it’s not done properly it’s as if you aren’t washing at all.

“I think a lot of people wash their hands underneath the water,” Yoerger said, “and actually you need that fifteen to twenty seconds outside the water before you rinse your hands.” Basically, lathering your hands outside the stream of water gives the soap enough time to wrap itself around all those germs before the water rinses them away. If you don’t give the soap enough time to contain the germs, then the germs simply cling to your skin instead of getting rinsed down the drain.

Yoerger also wants to encourage everyone to cover their cough and sneeze into a tissue or the crook of the elbow.

She also wants to stress the importance of hydration. Drink water to help your body stay healthy.

Keeping a strong immune system is also a good way to protect yourself from the various viruses spreading around right now. Stay hydrated, get good nutrition and plenty of sleep. Now is not the time to stay up late having a snack food binge.

But if the flu does get into your household, your only real option is to stay home and isolate yourself. This can be hard for working people who don’t have unlimited paid sick time. Yoerger has some suggestions to help with that too.

“It’s important for parents to have a backup plan, maybe a neighbor or a grandparent or somebody that has a few days off and can help out,” Yoerger said. “That’s the toughest part, when a parent is relying on work and now all of a sudden you’re two weeks off.”

And the most important thing to remember during flu season is to call your doctor if you’re worried. And wash your hands like a school nurse.
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