Precautions urged with arrival of flu season

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The 2017-18 influenza season is in full swing, with five Mainers dying from the flu or other sickness caused by the flu last week.

That makes 22 deaths in Maine this year from the flu, which only swept full force into Maine recently after rolling across much of the country in recent weeks. Nobody had died in the state by this time in the 2016-17 flu season, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. 1,749 Maine have been disagnosed so far this season wth the flu, and 429 have been hospitalized, as of data through Jan. 20. Most of those hospitalized have been seniors.

That is a markedly higher number of flu cases than last year at this time – more than five times as many confirmed cases, and an eightfold increase in hospitalizations. The flu season is not expected to peak for several more weeks.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms: fever or feeling feverish/chills; cough; sore throat; runny or stuffy nose; muscle or body aches; headaches; and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children. Check with your doctor promptly if you are at high risk of serious flu complications and you get flu symptoms.

When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people at high risk of serious flu complications, treatment with antiviral drugs can mean the difference between milder or more serious illness possibly resulting in a hospital stay.

There are numerous ways to prevent getting the flu, such as getting an annual vaccination. The following are also recommended:

Try to avoid close contact with sick people; if you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

For more information, go to https://www.cdc.gov/flu/.