Jefferson County public health officials are urging residents to get immunized against influenza.
Mark Johnson, executive director of Jeffco Public Health, said the seasonal illness is hitting the county hard.
“We are seeing this season’s flu hit a bit earlier, and we’re seeing it hit a bit harder than we usually see it,” said Johnson.
He said an 8-month-old from Jefferson County died from the flu.
“The ones we’re most concerned with are infants who have not built up enough of an immune system, and persons with compromised immune systems,” Johnson said. “The best way to prevent it, I believe, is to get the immunization.
He said the county is seeing more influenza B this year. Symptoms for both strains are generally similar, Johnson said.
“It usually starts with a feeling of being rundown; you may have a bit of a runny nose. Then you tend to get a cough and fever and, quite often, you’ll get aches, fever and chills, and a severe cough.”
Johnson said this season’s flu arrived earlier, with cases being reported in November.
He said scientists at the Centers for Disease Control generally watch illness trends in China and South America because those regions tend to lead the way in yearly seasonal influenza. Scientists then construct the vaccine around those bugs. Johnson said immunization is generally 80 percent effective, although last year’s vaccine was closer to 50 percent effective.
“The second best way to prevent it is to make sure you are getting all the hygienic things that your mother always told you to,” Johnson said. “Cover when you cough, don’t go to work when you’re sick, wash your hands, don’t put your fingers in your mouth or your nose or your eyes. Just some basic hygiene. And one of the things that irritates me the most are people who go to work sick, because that just increases the chance that they’re going to spread it on to somebody else.”
Johnson also advises parents to keep children home who are exhibiting signs of flu.
Those who do contract influenza should contact a health provider. Johnson said patients can receive anti-virals, including Tamiflu and Relenza. Both drugs lessen the viral load and decrease the spread. So it helps people around you, and it shortens the length of time you have the symptoms and the severity of symptoms.
Johnson advises those who get the illness to drink plenty of water, eat well, and stay home to get good rest.
Jefferson County Public Health offers flu vaccinations to the uninsured or people whose insurance doesn’t cover immunizations. Seasonal flu shots are available for those age 6 months and older at the Arvada and Lakewood locations by appointment; call 303-232-6301 for an appointment.
An illness by any other name
Despite the incorrect nomenclature, the so-called “stomach flu” — or “norovirus,” as it is known — is spreading in the community, according to Johnson.
While the illness is similar in some ways to influenza, it is classified as norovirus.
“It causes miserable symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea and just feeling wiped out,” said Johnson. While there’s not a vaccine for that, the best practice, again, is to practice good hygiene and staying away from people who are sick.”
To find other local resources or health tips, visit http://jeffco.us/health/index.htm
To check global flu trends, visit http://www.google.org/flutrends/
Chris Ferguson is a news editor with Evergreen Newspapers. Email him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.