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CANNELTON - Influenza activity in Indiana generally reaches its peak in February. It appears this year is no exception. In recent weeks, a growing number of area residents have been absent from work or school due to influenza-like illnesses. It is too early to tell whether this season will be worse than usual and the nation has had relatively mild flu seasons in the past two or three years. That may make what is happening this year seem more intense by comparison.
Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory system with symptoms that usually include fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches and extreme tiredness. While this is unpleasant enough, most people recover without incident.
However, for some the flu can be more serious, even deadly. Older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications such as pneumonia. Each year in the United States, an average of 36,000 people die of influenza and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from serious flu complications.
While it is a serious viral disease, it is also a preventable one. There are actions you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu. The Perry County Health Department urges residents to take a few basic precautions to stay healthy this flu season.
The best method of prevention is to get the influenza vaccination every year. Getting a flu vaccine now can still be beneficial but bear in mind that the body takes about two weeks to develop an immune response from the flu shot, so the protection will not be immediate. Even in a year when there is a less than perfect match between the vaccine and circulating strains of influenza viruses, it still offers protection by making the illness milder or enabling a faster recovery when people do get ill.
The flu virus is spread mainly from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the released droplets move through the air and are deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. People might also expose themselves by touching objects where an infected person has left droplets containing the virus.
Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to stay healthy this winter is to wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Rub hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces and wash for at least 20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
Hand washing is the best way to prevent spread of infection and must be used to clean visibly soiled hands. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based (alcohol concentration of 60-95%) hand sanitizers will kill germs that cause colds and the flu. If using a gel or foam, rub it in your hands until they are dry.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands. Sometimes germs can be spread when a person comes into contact with respiratory droplets on a surface like a desk, doorknob, or countertop and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth before washing their hands.
Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing but do not use your hands to cover. Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you do not have a tissue. Then, wash your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick and may serve as a source of infection. If you have the flu, it's a good time to stay at home and protect your co-workers from illness.
Keep sick kids home from school or day care. This will help prevent others from catching your illness. Teach and remind children to practice healthy habits because germs spread easily at school and in child-care settings.
So this flu season, take simple steps to do your part to protect yourself and others from the flu. For more information, call the Perry County Health Department at 547-2746.