Oh bugger, this flu season is a doozie
Happy birthday, no flu. Happy birthday, no flu. The two things you need to do this flu season to keep yourself protected are: get a flu shot and wash your hands.
Most people don't wash their hands long enough. Singing the Happy Birthday song twice while vigorously washing your hands with soap and water will help prevent the spread of germs.
Many other people don't get the flu shot.
"The flu virus goes around as much as people allow it to," said Eddie Reif, Douglas County Hospital (DCH) director of community relations and development. "If everyone covered their mouth when they coughed and sneezed, washed their hands and got vaccinated, the flu season would be dramatically reduced in duration and severity."
So far, influenza cases at DCH have been typically higher than usual at this time of year. Thirty percent of people tested for the flu at DCH have some variation of the strain. Reif said a lot of people are being admitted for flu-like symptoms. Confirmation of "the flu" can't be made until lab tests are run.
"It hasn't slowed down yet," Reif said. "As of this morning [Monday, January 14] we haven't had any slow down as far as new cases coming in."
The flu shot covers multiple strains of influenza, Reif said, including one that is going around right now. The Center for Disease Control reported that this year's vaccine includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. Even if a person contracts a variation of a strain covered by the shot, the vaccine is still effective in reducing the risk of getting or minimizing the effects of the flu.
Flu vaccine is currently available at the Alexandria Clinic. Reif said a lot of times the vaccine is covered by insurance.
"We're not in any short supply," Reif said. "The flu season is pretty severe right now."
To protect patients and staff at DCH, it is strongly recommended that any visitors coming to see friends or family not visit if they have any symptoms. Visitation is restricted to immediate family. It's difficult to tell when a person is no longer contagious. Typically, a person is no longer carrying the virus when they've been symptom-free for 24 hours.
"Send a card, call, send a text message," Reif said. "Our whole team has really been pulling together. When they get sick, we're kind of short staffed."
Unless a person is in a very serious state, it is suggested to make an appointment with urgent care once symptoms occur. Those that are most affected by the flu are age 65 and older and young children. Two types of flu are prevalent this year.
"We have such a mix of respiratory and nausea flu; probably seeing more of the respiratory," Reif said. He added that he's not working with patients on the floor so it's hard to say for sure.
"Here at the hospital, we're still handling everything, we're not turning anyone away," Reif assured.
Clinics and pharmacies offer flu vaccinations at varying costs. The most common, and oldest method, of vaccination is the flu shot. A nasal spray and interdermal vaccine are also available.
The shot is an inactivated vaccine injected into the body through a needle. People as young as 6-months-old can receive the shot. A higher dosage vaccine is recommended for people aged 65 and older.
The nasal-spray vaccine, Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV), is recommended for use by healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49. Pregnant women should not receive the nasal vaccine. It is also discouraged for asthmatics and children prone to wheezing, according to Douglas County Public Health Nurse Doreen Hanson.
Pregnant women, senior citizens, young children and people with health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease are at particularly high risk for complications if they contract the flu virus. Vaccination is recommended for those 6-months-old and older unless it is not possible due to a medical reason.
Once vaccination is administered, it takes a few weeks for a person's body to develop immunity.
The virus can be spread through coughing, sneezing or coming into physical contact with an item that has been touched by a person who has the flu. Infection can be spread up to a day before symptoms occur and five days after the sickness starts.
Currently, 47 of the 50 states have widespread flu cases (California and Mississippi have regional flu, the District of Columbia has local cases and Hawaii shows sporadic flu infection).
Minnesota ranks in the highest category for influenza-like illness.
Since the start of the influenza season, 60 influenza-related deaths have been confirmed in Minnesota (23 occurred within the first week).
Flu symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, purple or blue discoloration of the lips, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness,confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, seizures or flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.