With flu activity reports showing a high level of illness, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is reminding residents of the common-sense steps they can take to avoid spreading influenza or becoming ill with the disease.
“Reports have been showing high levels of activity across the state for the last few weeks. We don’t know whether we’ve yet reached the peak of activity,” said Clay Van Houten, interim state epidemiologist with WDH.
Influenza is a contagious, respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.
“Influenza should not be overlooked as a serious threat. Our public health laboratory testing is showing that H3N2 is the flu strain circulating around the state and nation,” Van Houten said. “This is concerning because we tend to see more hospitalizations and deaths reported during seasons when this type of flu is dominant, especially among young children and older adults.”
Common-sense measures can help slow or prevent influenza’s spread. “Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you sneeze and cough; frequently washing your hands; and staying home from work, school, day care and errands when you are ill can help,” Van Houten said.
“Vaccines are the most important tool available to help prevent influenza and we know this season’s vaccine includes the strain circulating in Wyoming,” he said. Flu shots are still available in many locations; WDH recommends the vaccine annually for nearly everyone over the age of six months.
Van Houten reminded residents it takes about two weeks for flu vaccines to offer protection. “If you’re exposed to the virus in the meantime, you may still become ill,” he said.
Doctors may recommend prescription antiviral medications to help treat influenza. These medications may be especially helpful for persons at higher risk for flu complications such as young children, adults 65 andr older, persons with chronic medical conditions, persons with challenged immune systems, women who are pregnant or soon after delivery, persons less than 19 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy for other conditions, those who are extremely overweight, and residents of nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities.
“For antiviral medications to be a good option, it is important to seek medical care quickly once you start to become ill,” Van Houten advised.
Van Houten said residents who become ill should get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids and avoid using alcohol or tobacco. “You may also take over-the-counter medications to relieve your symptoms, but should avoid giving products containing aspirin to children or teens with flu-like symptoms,” he said.