Time to get smart about the flu

There’s a martyr in every office. You know, the person who dutifully reports for work day in and day out, regardless of the amount of hacking, sneezing and wheezing they’re suffering.

No one likes a martyr. At least not the Sick Day Martyr. The New York State Department of Health has categorized the current influenza activity level as “widespread.” That means there’s more than just a “bug going around.” It’s a serious threat to public health; laboratory-confirmed influenza has been reported in all 57 counties – currently in Chenango County there are 220 confirmed cases (not counting, of course, the probable multitudes of patients who are suffering and haven’t seen a doctor). Last flu season, there were 30.

Now’s not the time to tough it out at the office, or to send little Johnny to school if he’s sick. Stay home, and keep your germs, as much as possible, to yourself.

Seasonal flu is not just a really bad cold. The flu is a contagious illness that affects the nose, throat, lungs and other parts of the body. It can spread quickly from one person to another, causing mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something – such as a surface or object – with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

If you do get the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests some simple, smart steps to make sure you take care of yourself – and to avoid infecting others.

• Stay home. If you’re not feeling well, you don’t want other people feeling badly too.

• If you must go out, wear a mask, and try to avoid touching people. Flu spreads through microscopic fluid exchanges, like from sneezes, coughs or shaking hands.

• You’re contagious for a day before you show symptoms and up to seven days afterward, regardless of how you feel.

• Get plenty of fluids and rest. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands often.

Because of the widespread illness, the Chenango County Health Department has waived its usual fee for the flu vaccine, in hopes that residents who have not had their shot will get one now. The vaccine is available to anyone 6 months and older. Persons interested in receiving a flu shot should call their health care provider or call the Health Department at 337-1660.

The Health Department is also hosting a free public flu clinic on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Holy Family School on Prospect Street in Norwich. If a person has Medicare B, they should bring their card with them. Call 337-1660 for an appointment for this free clinic.

To dispel what’s become a common myth, the flu vaccine does not give you the flu! According to the state Health Department, “The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. It stimulates your body to produce antibodies. These antibodies provide protection against infection by flu viruses. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to provide protection against influenza virus infection. Until then, you are still at risk for getting the flu. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious complications from seasonal flu. Those who live or work with people who are at high risk should get vaccinated against seasonal influenza.”

If you’re young, older, have problems with your kidneys, heart or lungs or have a compromised immune system, seek help early. But if you’re in generally good health, you might be able to ride out the flu on your own. Still, watch for these signs that you need medical attention:

• You develop shortness of breath.

• Your symptoms last longer than seven days without letup.

• Your skin turns bluish.

• You feel dizzy or confused.

• You develop persistent vomiting, or you develop a fever-related rash.

• You become overly dehydrated.

• Your fever tops 102 and persists despite medication.

Be smart, be safe, and protect yourself.

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