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Shots, hand washing can help guard against flu

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

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Although the ideal time to get a flu shot is early fall, registered nurse Stephanie Farrell said it is not too late for individuals to protect themselves against the illness.

“You can still have the virus circulating as late as May,” said Farrell, a nurse in Cadence Health’s Community and Health Outreach Department. “We are not too late.”

The most recent data from Centers for Disease Control indicate much of the United States was affected by widespread influenza activity for the week ending Jan. 18, and Illinois has been no different.

In Kane County, seven cases of flu-related intensive care unit admissions and no deaths had been reported as of the week of Jan. 5, according to the Kane County Health Department.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has reported that most of the hospitalizations and deaths affected those 50 and older. In Kane County, the age range was 22 to 74, with an average of 48, according to county data from the week of Jan. 5.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and, more so for children, vomiting and diarrhea.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, flu activity has been widespread since late December.

“The strain of flu that is predominately circulating in Illinois and the country has historically been a more severe strain causing more hospitalizations and deaths,” the state agency ­reported in mid-January.

For the week of Jan. 12, the agency reported, 44 flu-associated intensive care unit admissions were reported, along with seven deaths. This brings the season’s total to 450 ICU admissions and 37 deaths, according to the agency.

Symptoms can develop about one to four days after exposure to the virus, Farrell said. Generally, she said, people can infect others a day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.

The Kane County Health Department encourages people to follow three guidelines to help prevent the flu – clean your hands, cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and contain your illness by staying home when sick.

Farrell said flu shots – which take about two weeks to become effective – will not be a guarantee against getting the flu. But, she said, the vaccine is considered the best protection against the illness, as those who get it are 60 percent less likely to need treatment from a health care provider.

For children who get their first-ever flu shot between the ages of 6 months and 9 years, two doses are required, Farrell said, noting the shots must be separated by a month. She said children younger than 6 months cannot get the shot.

Infants can be protected if those around them have been vaccinated, Farrell said, adding that is described as “herd immunity.”

On the Web

Visit flushot.healthmap.org for a flu shot locator map.

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