“Influenza is highly contagious, and persons who have not had a flu shot may be at risk of catching the disease,” said Washoe County District Health Officer Dr. Joseph Iser. “Common signs and symptoms of the flu include: fever over 100 F, aching muscles, chill and sweats, headaches, dry cough, fatigue and weakness and nasal congestion. If you have flu symptoms and at are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away.”
Persons at risk for complications include children age 6 months to 4 years (59 months); people 50 years and older; pregnant women; and persons with chronic illness.
The number of seasonal flu-related deaths varies from year to year because flu seasons are unpredictable and often fluctuate in length and severity. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that from the 1976-1977 season to the 2006-2007 flu season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
“Our epidemiologists and biostatisticians at the health district expect to begin seeing cases of flu in northern Nevada and Washoe County around the beginning of December with the highest number of cases seen in January and February; but, cases can been as late as March, so it’s always a good idea to get a flu shot to protect yourself from getting sick,” Iser said. Iser added that protection against the flu is not achieved for two weeks after receiving the vaccine, so persons are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Influenza type A can be treated with antiviral drugs if administered within the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Drugs can reduce the severity and shorten the duration of the illness among healthy individuals. Parents are reminded not to give aspirin to children and adolescents who show signs of the flu. Cases of Reye Syndrome, a serious neurological disorder that can cause death or permanent brain damage, have been linked to the use of aspirin by children infected with influenza or chickenpox. Non-aspirin products can be used to treat symptoms of the flu.
“Your best protection against the flu is to get a shot,” Iser said. “While other preventative measures like frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying at home when sick can also reduce the risk of transmission, a flu shot is still the most-recommended method of prevention.”
Flu vaccine is available throughout the area at pharmacies, health providers, physicians, and the health district. For more information, visit www.washoecounty.us/health/cchs/flu.html or www.inFLUencenevada.org.