POTSDAM –With cases of seasonal influenza (the “flu”) popping up in St. Lawrence County at a record pace, Canton-Potsdam Hospital’s primary care practitioners are advising getting a vaccination to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
“Flu spreads easily from person to person,” said Family Nurse Practitioner Mark Hankins at CPH’s primary care practice in Norfolk.
“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against seasonal flu,” he said. “Although it takes a couple of weeks following vaccination for the protection to take effect, flu experts are saying we haven’t seen the peak of the season yet. I’m letting my patients know that there could be more to come.”
Hankins noted that anyone can catch a flu virus. Although it is mild for most, he said in some cases it can lead to hospitalization and even death.
“Flu can be very serious for the elderly, infants, and those with chronic medical conditions, especially asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” he said. “It’s a respiratory disease that causes fever, body aches, chills, coughing, and sometimes a runny nose and sore throat. Contrary to popular notions, it does not cause stomach upset or diarrhea, although you could have those symptoms from other causes along with the flu,” said Mr. Hankins.
“Because it spreads easily through droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs, sneezing or coughing into your elbow or a tissue will provide protection to others,” said Hankins. “Hand-washing is also a good defense, as well as wiping down ‘high-touch’ surfaces such as computer key-boards and TV remote control units.”
Most importantly,” says Hankins, “people who have flu symptoms should stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use medication that reduces fever, such as Tylenol, following the label instructions carefully. If the fever persists for more than 3 days, if you are unable to drink enough fluids, or if you feel better, then get the fever again, it’s time to call your primary health care practitioner,” he said.
“Call 911 and visit the Emergency Room if you or a loved one is having trouble drawing breath, is wheezing or has chest pain, if there is blood when you cough, or if you can’t sit up or stand up and walk around,” said Hankins.
According to CPH Infection Prevention Specialist Nancy Wood, RN, seasonal flu typically occurs from the fall to the late spring. Yearly vaccination is required because the flu virus evolves into new strains; some of these can cause more severe illness than in previous years, and/or can spread more easily. Flu vaccines are updated yearly to resist the strains most likely to be circulating in a particular year. The vaccine is made from non-living viruses; therefore it is impossible to contract the flu from the vaccine itself.
“You may be able to spread the seasonal flu virus to others a day before you feel sick and up to five days after you first get the illness,” said Wood, “so it’s very important to take precautions like washing hands frequently with soap and running water or using hand sanitizer, and staying away from people vulnerable to the flu. As hard as it may be, this means not visiting loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals,” said Wood.
Wood said there are excellent sources of information about the seasonal flu on the Internet. For more information, Wood recommends www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza.htm.