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Important Health Information on Influenza

By Angela Pagenkopf, RN and Infection Preventionist at Southwest Health –

Influenza is rapidly increasing across the U.S. and in WI.  Nationwide there have been 13 pediatric deaths so far this season and 2,104 positive cases of influenza by laboratory testing in Wisconsin alone.  These statistics are taken from data ending December 31st, meaning that these numbers are even higher now and will only continue to grow.  This is a very serious trend and greatly rivals other extreme years.

We have seen a rapid increase in positive cases in our communities, which makes getting the flu shot more important than ever before.  Also, remember to use good hand hygiene, practice appropriate cough etiquette, and stay home if you are feeling ill.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever – although not everyone will have a fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches (like you got run over by a train)
  • Headache
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Some people have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children. Influenza should not be confused with Norovirus or other viruses that cause nausea/vomiting/diarrhea without respiratory symptoms.  People commonly and incorrectly call these illnesses the “flu.”

How influenza spreads:

When people cough or sneeze, they spread tiny droplets of influenza virus. These are inhaled or transmitted when you touch an object and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.  A person with the influenza virus can spread the illness for 1 day before symptoms develop until 7 days after becoming sick.  Young children and people with weakened immune systems may be able to infect others with influenza viruses for an even longer period of time.

Complications of influenza:

Bacterial pneumonia
Ear infections
Sinus infections
Worsening of a chronic medical condition such as congestive heart failure (CHF), asthma, or diabetes
Death

People with elevated risk of complications:

65 years and older
Those with chronic medical conditions
Pregnant women
Young children

Prevention:

  • Influenza vaccination – for prevention of certain strains and lessening of symptoms
  • Covering coughs and sneezes (coughing and sneezing into elbow)
  • Keep your hands away from the “T” Zone – the triangular area including your eyes, nose and mouth
  • AND (you guessed it) Good hand hygiene!

We wish everyone the best of luck in warding off the influenza virus.  Remember, please stay home if you are feeling ill.  Influenza can rapidly become an epidemic.


Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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