What is influenza, more commonly known as the ‘flu?’ It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Signs and symptoms include: fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults. It is important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.
The flu can range from mild to quite severe, and at times can lead to death, especially in the very young, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems. The flu is believed to be spread by droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking, which can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people. It may also be spread by touching something that has the flu virus on it and then touching one’s own mouth, eye or nose.
So, how long is it between exposure and you getting sick, and how long are you contagious? Once exposed, you may develop symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days later, with the average being 2 days. You can actually spread the flu virus to someone else a day before you even know that you are sick and up to 5 to 7 days after you know you are sick.
How are you going to prevent yourself from getting the flu this year? The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent hand washing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.
It is interesting to note that the flu exists year round; however, the peak of flu season usually occurs between late November and March. It is impossible to predict the exact timing of this peak. The CDC performs surveillance through lab reports, physician reports of influenza-like illness, hospitalizations and local, state and territorial epidemiology reports, which help to identify rising numbers of patients with the flu as well as the strain of flu the patients’ have. They also closely monitor for any children who die as result of a lab-confirmed flu diagnosis. As the reportable disease nurse for the Meigs County Health Department, it is my job to report and investigate any Meigs County resident who is hospitalized with the flu and to monitor for any outbreak situation of the flu in settings like a nursing home or other facility. I work closely with our regional epidemiologist and the infection control staff at local facilities to identify and head off any potential outbreak situations as soon as more than one case is identified.
So, how many people get the flu each year? According to the CDC, “Flu seasons vary in severity depending on a number of factors including the characteristics of circulating viruses, the timing of the season, how well the vaccine is protecting against influenza infection, and how many people got vaccinated. While the numbers vary, in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu every year.”
To protect our community from the flu and a possible flu outbreak, the Meigs County Health Department offers the flu vaccine to those aged 6 months through adulthood. This year, we are not only offering this protection, but we are also practicing for a much bigger potential emergency situation by hosting a drive-thru flu clinic on Oct. 7 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Meigs County Fairgrounds. This, our very first drive-thru clinic, will serve as an “exercise” to help us with our emergency preparedness plan and practice an effective manner of vaccinating a large amount of people in a short time period. We hope you will join us in this endeavor. If you cannot join us on Oct. 7, we will begin administration of flu shots at the MCHD on Tuesday, Oct. 10 between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and other days by appointment. Please bring your insurance or medical card with you to the clinic. The cost for a private pay flu shot is $37 for those under age 65 and $61 for those aged 65+. We do have a very limited number of flu shots available for those with no insurance coverage, and they will be given first come, first served. Please contact us at 740-992-6626 if you have any questions.
Leanne Cunningham is the Director of Nursing at the Meigs County Health Department.