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Fighting the flu
February 7, 2018

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Officials are asking those who have the flu to put a pause on their life - stay home from work, or school, slow down, rest and drink lots of fluids to allow the body to recuperate.

Florida Department of Health in Lee County Epidemiologist Jennifer Roth said compared to last season there have been more flu cases than usual, and earlier. She said this "fast" flu season is comparable to 2014-2015, when it peaked around the same time.

Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, System Medical Director Epidemiology for Lee Health, said there were 600 new cases of flu across Lee Health during the week of Jan. 22, through Jan. 28.

Early treatment with antiviral medication may reduce the severity of the flu and may prevent serious flu-related complications.

"It is not easy to predict why some year's influenza is worse than others. Influenza A strain H3N2 is a strain that can change and move rapidly. It is not as easily controlled with vaccination," Saunders said. "Australia had high peaks of influenza in the fall (during their flu season) with H3N2, which is a predictor of our fate during our flu season."

The flu season runs from October through May.

"We peak in February with high activity starting in January," Roth said of a typical year. "This time we started seeing widespread activity in December. Peaking in January is early for us."

The earlier detection is attributed to a variety of factors.

"One is there is many different strains that circulate every season," Roth said, adding that the strain this year is the H3N2.

One of the ways someone can protect themselves from this illness is the flu shot. Roth said each flu shot contains four different strains, providing protection from those strains.

"The flu shot can give you basic immunity, so it helps prevent more severe outcomes," she said.

Individuals are still encouraged to get this year's flu shot. Roth said although they are seeing a peak in cases right now, they will continue to see cases as the flu season continues through May.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges everyone 6 months of age and older to get the flu vaccine. The best time to get the vaccine is before the flu starts spreading in your community, but now that the flu is prevalent here, it is not too late to vaccinate. It is an important reminder, too, that it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection. Getting the flu vaccine does not guarantee that you won't get the flu, but it can help make the illness milder and reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization," Saunders said.

Individuals can also seek some protection from the flu by taking Tamiflu, an antiviral. Roth said Tamiflu is good to take 48 hours within the onset of symptoms.

It can also be used as a preventative if others in the household have the flu.

The flu can be harmful to children under the age of 5, those 65 years and older, women who are pregnant and any other compromising condition of chronic health problems an individual may have.

Roth said children under 5 years old and adults older than 65 do not have fully competent immune systems.

"The signs and symptoms of flu include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue. Some may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though that is more common in children. It is important to note, too, that not everyone with flu will have a fever," Saunders said.

Roth encourages individuals who are experiencing flu symptoms to make an appointment with their primary care physician.

"We want people to seek medical care, but not overwhelm our emergency rooms," she said. "You should go to the Emergency Room if you have noticed you have very severe symptoms."

Those symptoms, Roth said is a fever over 103 degrees, difficulty breathing for adults and children, chest pain and not getting enough air. She said all of those symptoms, if they progress, can cause pneumonia and more acute intervention from a physician is then needed.

For children, Roth encourages parents to pay attention to their child's fever.

"Children spike fevers for multiple reasons and it becomes hard in children that are nonverbal to express how they are feeling and where it hurts," she said. "Watching the fever is important."

If the fever does not go away with over the counter medications like Ibuprofen and Tylenol, and the parent hears their child wheezing and not breathing well, or the child's hands are cool or clammy, seek medical attention.

Saunders said in most cases, people who get the flu should stay home and avoid contact with other people except for medical care.

"The primary care doctor's office, Lee Health's Convenient Care offices, or other urgent or walk-in medical centers are appropriate venues for medical care, as they can diagnose and treat the flu," she said.

Lee Health has a restriction in effect for children 12 years and younger from visiting the hospitals across the system.

"The restriction is important because young children often do not have the personal awareness to practice appropriate hand hygiene-this restriction protects both the patients and the child," Saunders said.

Roth said unfortunately, this is a bad flu season.

"We have flu every single year. We get seasonal flu," she said. "It's more prevalent in the media when we have a lot of cases. We saw a lot of cases three years ago. Every flu season you just need to be prepared. We know it is the same strain of flu we have had the last three years. We know what we are dealing with."

Roth said individuals should practice good hand washing because the flu spreads through droplet transmission through saliva, mucus and not washing hands.

"Get your flu shot and wash your hands," Roth said.

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