Online Staff Report
Winnebago County Health Department (WCHD) is reporting a recent increase in influenza activity in the community, indicating the possibility of an early peak for this influenza season.
“This may be the earliest flu season our community has experienced since the 2003-2004 season and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, both of which were early and severe, especially in children,” said WCHD Administrator Mike Bacon.
The flu season of 2011-2012 peaked in mid-March and was considered very mild.
“With the early onset of flu this December, it is very important everyone 6 months of age and older receive a flu vaccination as soon as possible,” Bacon said. “By being vaccinated, you reduce your risk of illness, hospitalization or even death; not to mention, helping prevent the spreading of flu to others.”
WCHD began its annual seasonal flu surveillance in October. In the past month, influenza-like illnesses (ILI) and influenza cases have increased dramatically.
Although seasonal influenza is not a reportable disease to the WCHD, numerous clinical and long-term care facilities and schools voluntarily report influenza to aid in identifying trends in the community, according to Kara Biery, WCHD communicable disease supervisor.
Influenza A, primarily strains H1N1 and H3N2, along with Influenza B, are being reported. The WCHD can track ILI using a syndromic surveillance system, utilizing emergency room data from two health systems. In addition, two local sentinel sites have been identified to report ILI visits to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
WCHD Health Promotion and Protection Director Dee Dunnett added: “If you haven’t had your annual flu shot, it’s not too late to be vaccinated. Once vaccinated, it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection.”
Influenza is a contagious disease. Most experts believe flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
Symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, chills, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue.
Although most people will usually recover from flu without complications, the virus poses a more serious risk to children younger than 5, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain long-term medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, blood disorders, morbid obesity, kidney and liver disorders, HIV or AIDS, and cancer.
For people in the high-risk group, getting the flu can mean more serious illness, including hospitalization, or it can mean a worsening of existing chronic conditions.
Another good way to prevent the spread of germs and to prevent influenza is to follow the “Three C’s”:
1. Clean your hands after using the restroom and before eating;
2. Cover your cough by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or into a tissue; and
3. Contain your germs by staying home if you are feeling sick.
If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
“Flu vaccine is available through the WCHD and local health care providers,” said Sue Fuller, WCHD public information officer. To schedule an appointment for a flu shot at the WCHD, call (815) 720-4264. For more about influenza, visit the WCHD website www.wchd.org.
Posted Dec. 20, 2012