Health officials prepare for flu season

CLINTON — Area health officials are in the midst of battling flu season, with encouragements going out to the Gateway area to be proactive and receive an influenza vaccination.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2017-2018 influenza season was one of "high severity," with the season becoming the first ever to earn that classification across every age group. Ahead of the 2018-2019 season, healthcare professionals are urging local residents to protect themselves.

"Really it's all about the basic preventative practices that can be the most important," Mercy Medical Center Infection Preventionist Jeff Sander-Welzien said Tuesday. "It boils down to covering your cough, washing your hands often and thoroughly, and other basic hygiene things."

Sander-Welzien recalled last flu season, calling it "one of the roughest we've seen." If, in the event that one should begin displaying influenza-like symptoms, the protocol turns from preventative to one of containment.

The illness particularly affects the "health vulnerable," including young children and the elderly. According to the CDC, young children were unfortunate victims of influenza at historically high rates last season.

The difference could have been a 10-minute trip to the doctor's office to receive a shot, the organization reported.

"As of October 27, 2018, a total of 185 pediatric deaths had been reported to CDC during the 2017-2018 season," the organization released. "This number exceeds the previously highest number of flu-associated deaths in children reported during a regular flu season (171 during the 2012-2013 season). Approximately 80 percent of these deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination this season."

During intense flu seasons, Sander-Welzien said a group of area health professionals are in constant communication, brainstorming "best practices" as the illness spreads. Part of that communication focuses on clearing up some common misconceptions they see.

The Mercy official says many people don't recognize the severity of influenza because they think the flu is a gastrointestinal issue, with symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. In reality, actual influenza presents itself as a pneumonia-like disease, affecting the respiratory system among others.

"Every year, we seem to clarify some things for the community," Sander-Welzien said. "We want people to recognize the right symptoms, and to think about the people around you. The flu doesn't just affect those who have it."

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