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County says to take flu seriously

Hometown News: Vero Beach - 2/9/2018

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - The Indian River County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control are urging residents to take this year's flu very seriously. The health department held a flu shot clinic on Feb. 3, several days after sending an alert reporting a sharp increase in flu activity in Indian River County.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The viruses are spread by droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

Symptoms of flu include fatigue, persistent fever, weakness, runny/stuffy nose, head or body aches, and cough. Symptoms may also include vomiting and diarrhea.

In the most severe cases, signs that may require an immediate trip to the emergency room include fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish or gray skin color, severe or persistent vomiting, not waking up or not interacting, and symptoms that improve but then return.

"Young children, older people and those with certain health conditions are at especially high risk for serious complications," the DOH said in its alert.

The state health department also has issued several warnings. At the end of January, the state said that flu activity had increased sharply for the third week in a row. Flu activity was reported at "higher levels than at the highest points in previous flu seasons."

The CDC says that the peak of flu season normally lasts around 16 weeks. As of early February, flu activity had been elevated for about nine weeks, meaning we should expect at least seven more weeks of elevated flu.

The outbreak has been nationwide. Only Oregon and Hawaii are currently considered out of danger. As of early Feb., the CDC is reporting that the flu is actually increasing on the east coast.

The worst outbreaks have been in facilities serving children and the elderly. At least five children have died from the flu statewide, and deaths from pneumonia were also higher than expected. The CDC says that this year's virus has killed 53 children nationwide.

In an ominous warning, the state health department said "deaths are expected to increase over the coming weeks."

The county is recommending that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccine. This recommendation continues even though, according to a report in Scientific American magazine analyzing CDC data, this year's flu vaccine is not working well.

The current flu outbreak is a mixture of three strains of flu: H3N2, H1N1, and influenza B.

"The flu vaccine is not working well against the H3N2 strain due to a genetic mismatch between the vaccine version of the bug and its wild form," Scientific American said, based on CDC data. "A Canadian estimate finds the efficacy of the vaccine this season may only be 17 percent, below even the estimate of 30 percent effectiveness for the US vaccine."

The CDC said that despite the vaccine not working as well as hoped, vaccinated people who do get the flu have less severe symptoms.

In addition to the vaccine, the CDC and local health department officials recommend that everyone wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching eyes, the nose, and the mouth, and clean exposed surfaces. Those feeling sick are urged to get plenty of rest and drink fluids. Anyone who is sick should stay home until 24 hours after fever is gone.

Antiviral drugs can treat the flu, but they are only considered effective when started within the first two days of illness.

Scientific American magazine also warned that, due to the multiple strains circulating this year, one person can catch a flu twice. Getting sick with one strain of flu does not protect you from getting a different strain later.

The Indian River County Health Department Main Clinic is located at 1900 27th St., Vero Beach.

For more information, call DOH Indian River at (772) 794-7450.


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