The flu is beginning to sicken increasing numbers of Idaho residents, prompting health officials to urge people to get vaccinated and take precautions to protect their health.
Influenza is not a reportable disease, however, anecdotal, school and health provider reports show an increasing incidence of flu-like illnesses throughout the state. So far this year, the flu has contributed to the deaths of three Idaho residents, all over the age of 50.
The flu vaccine is recommended as the best protection from influenza. A record amount of flu vaccine was produced for this flu season, with many healthcare providers and public health districts still providing vaccinations. Initial analysis of this year’s flu season shows the vaccine is a good match for the strains of flu currently circulating, reinforcing health officials’ recommendation for people to seek vaccination.
People who are advised to be vaccinated include those who are over the age of 50, people with chronic medical conditions, healthcare workers, children over six months of age, and family members who have an infant younger than six months or who have contact with a family member with a chronic illness. Recently, reports of increases in school absenteeism due to flu-like illnesses suggest children may be a ready source of infection for classmates and households alike. Vaccination of children is considered an important aspect of influenza control for the community as a whole.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that infects 5-20% of people every year. Its symptoms include fever, headache and fatigue. Complications of the flu can lead to more serious illnesses, including death. The influenza virus usually spreads person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. Along with a flu shot, people also are urged to:
· Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent infecting other people. Avoid people who appear sick.
· Stay home from work when sick.
· Wash your hands frequently, especially after being out in the public. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth until you have washed your hands.
· Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, eat nutritious foods and take part in physical activity to stay healthy.
Influenza season usually occurs between May and October. During four of the last eight years, Idaho's flu season has peaked in February or March. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, widespread flu activity-- the highest level of prevalence-- is being reported in most eastern states. In the West, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona are reporting widespread illnesses.
For more information about the flu, please contact your district health department.