Flu cases are on the rise with more expected in the upcoming weeks. At Western Wisconsin Health, we want you to know it’s not too late to get a flu vaccination. The flu season typically peaks in late January to early February. It is recommended that everyone six months and older should receive a flu vaccination each year to reduce illnesses and prevent hospitalizations. The flu can be especially dangerous to the frail or elderly, children under 12 months of age, pregnant women, and people with certain long term medical conditions.
Currently, Western Wisconsin Health is seeing 4-5 confirmed cases of influenza daily. During the 2015-2016 flu season, CDC estimates that 5 million cases of flu illness, 2.5 million flu-associated medical visits, and 71,000 flu hospitalizations were prevented by flu vaccination. Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses, with new vaccines on the market this season. For the first time in the United States, two new vaccines are available. The first contains Adjuvant, a vaccine ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response in the body. This new vaccine is approved for use in people 65 years and older. The second protects against four flu viruses (as opposed to last season’s that protected against three) and is approved for use in people 4 years and older. Advancements are continuously being made to match the strains of influenza, especially those associated with severe illness.
Symptoms of influenza include fever or chills, muscle or body aches, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache and fatigue. If you or a family member is experiencing flu symptoms, it is best to stay home except to seek medical treatment and isolate yourself from other family members. If influenza symptoms are caught early, a medical provider can prescribe antiviral drugs, which can reduce symptoms and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia.
We know the importance of protecting our patients and staff from potentially getting influenza. There are vaccinations still left and the strain that is in the vaccine is covering the flu virus. The influenza vaccination has been shown to offer substantial other benefits including reducing illness, antibiotic use, time lost from work, hospitalizations and deaths. It is highly recommended that annual influenza vaccination efforts continue as long as the influenza virus is circulating.
“Some individuals have concerns about the flu vaccine because of what it contains,” said Sharon Bergsholm, Director of Infection Prevention and Risk Management at Western Wisconsin Health. “I want to assure those individuals that Western Wisconsin Health uses only single dose thimerosal free vaccine.” (Thimerosal is a preservative and mercury compound.)
Even if you get a flu vaccination, there is always still the potential you could get a less severe case of influenza. Individuals with flu like symptoms wanting to visit patients at Western Wisconsin Health are asked to stay home until they are symptom free for at least 24 hours. This will protect vulnerable patients, as well as staff members. Influenza can be especially dangerous to the frail or elderly, especially if they’re already hospitalized for another reason.
Anyone entering the facility with flu like symptoms will be required to wear a mask. “The flu is spread like many viruses, through direct contact with secretions. Good hand hygiene is essential,” advises Sharon Bergsholm. Remember, the best way to avoid contracting influenza is to get the vaccination, but you also need to practice good nutrition, excellent hand hygiene, get the right amount of sleep, and STAY HOME IF YOU ARE ILL.
Western Wisconsin Health has flu vaccines available. Patients can make an appointment with the clinic nurse any time the clinic is open. If you wish to schedule an appointment, please call the 24 hour appointment line at 715-684-1111. Learn more at wwhealth.org.