RANGELY I After a particularly harsh flu season last winter, many Rangely residents will be happy to hear that the start of this year’s flu season has been slow.
Kelly Christian, the Infectious Disease Coordinator and a nurse at Rangely District Hospital, is hopeful that the small handful of confirmed flu cases thus far is due to an increased number of residents getting their flu shots. However, she also says we aren’t out of the woods yet.
“We are early in the season and typically don’t see an uptick in numbers until January, with flu season peaking in February,” she said.
Christian said it is difficult to tell how severe this year’s flu strain may be.
“Nationally, the numbers of influenza cases are so low that there isn’t supportive data regarding strain severity,” she said, adding that influenza must be taken on a case-by-case basis.
“A healthy 20-year-old will tolerate the influenza virus much better than an older, immuno-compromised individual, or even a small child whose immune system is not fully developed,” Christian said.
Despite the low numbers of flu victims this year, Christian emphasizes that prevention is still vital.
“The biggest preventative strategy is hand hygiene,” she said. “Use hand sanitizer, wash your hands with soap and water, do not rub your eyes with ‘dirty’ hands or touch your nose or mouth, as this is how the influenza virus, (among other viruses and bacteria), enters the body,” Christian warns.
Christian also hopes people will remember what she terms “respiratory etiquette” by coughing or sneezing into the crook of their arm or a tissue followed by immediately washing their hands.
“The influenza virus is spread via droplets, so when a person infected with this virus coughs or sneezes, the droplets float for approximately six feet on the air current in any room then drop onto high touch areas (counter tops, telephones, door handles) where they may be picked up by other people on their hands. If the cough or sneeze is not covered, the virus that is expelled via droplet can easily be inhaled. That is why it is so important to cover your cough,” she said.
Those experiencing symptoms such as fever, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue should seek out the advice of their doctor who can determine if antivirals are the correct course of action.
It is recommended that antivirals be started within 48 hours of the onset of illness to be most effective, so time is of the essence.
Christian also urges that those who suspect they have the virus or have had it confirmed by a doctor take extra precautions to protect the community
“If you have been diagnosed with influenza or suspect you have it, stay home. If you have family residing in a long term care unit or admitted to the hospital, please do not visit them while you are actively ill. If the influenza virus were to be introduced into a fragile elderly population, the consequences could be deadly,” she said.