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It’s flu season

By Staff | Feb 11, 2015

Seasons come, seasons go.

With tourism season officially here this Saturday, the Florida winter season is under way and that marks the cold and flu season.

The influenza virus is nothing to sneeze about. Florida Department of Health in Lee County officials urge residents and visitors to take precautions to limit their risk of exposure to seasonal flu through vaccination and frequent thorough hand washing. Seasonal visitors impact the area in winter months and so does the virus.

Lee DOH Public Information Officer Diane Holm has reported a rise in type B flu cases in late January/ early February now that type A flu cases, the most prevalent flu seen in the county, have lowered. While flu A was primarily not covered by the flu vaccine, flu B is. So, get that shot.

“The strain of flu A that was in the vaccine had drifted and changed just slightly, so that the vaccine was effective only about 25 percent of the time,” Holm said. “So, a lot of people who may have gotten the flu shot still got sick because of the drift. If you haven’t received the flu vaccine, you are going to be very susceptible to flu B right now.”

Holm stated the normal peak for flu in the area is January/February, but the influenza season struck earlier. Higher flu case numbers were reported in November/December than currently. In a December report, the county saw a 66 percent increase in confirmed cases, but that percentage has dropped recently.

Symptoms of influenza include headache, fever, cough, body aches and/or extreme tiredness. Getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids may help, but making an appointment with your medical provider and getting a prescription for one of a few antiviral medications is the best call.

“What is scientifically proven is a product like Tamiflu that speeds up the process of getting well by one day,” Holm said. “But, you have to get on it within the first two days of having the flu. Prevention is always the most important method.”

According to the Lee DOH website, seasonal flu is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the influenza virus. Compared with most other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, influenza infection often causes a more severe illness.

“The most effective precautions we can take to fight the flu are getting vaccinated and diligently practicing good hygiene like washing hands often,” DOH-Lee Epidemiologist Jennifer Roth said.

“Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated, even if they received a vaccine last season. With many people traveling, these simple precautions lessen your risk of exposure to the virus or transmission to others.”

The DOH-Lee urges the following preventive steps for the flu:

– Get re-vaccinated every flu season because strains of flu viruses change each year.

– If you are sick with flulike illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

– If you have a chronic illness, or are pregnant, contact your healthcare provider when you have an illness that might be influenza. Children and adults may benefit from treatment with prescription antiviral medication. See your health care provider as soon as symptoms begin.

– Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

– Wash your hands often throughout the day, whether you are sick or not, with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

– Chronic illnesses that put you at risk for more severe influenza and complications, no matter how old you are, include: diabetes, heart disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, and neurological and developmental disorders. People who are obese are also at increased risk of severe influenza.

DOH-Lee gives flu vaccine to adults and children at its main office 3920 Michigan Avenue, Fort Myers from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 1-3 p.m. on Friday. All children’s vaccinations are free. Adult vaccines range from $30-$50.

To locate flu vaccine, contact your healthcare provider or visit www.floridahealth.gov/prevention-safety-and-wellness/flu-prevention/locate-a-flushot.html .

“The flu vaccine is really more important now than ever because we are seeing the rise in flu B,” said Holm. “Also, use the never-ending prevention method of good, personal hygiene. When in public, cough into your sleeve or a tissue and immediately throw that away and wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds.”

– Information provided by the Lee County Department of Health