ST. GEORGE – The Southwest Utah Public Health Department answers questions regarding the current flu season:
What is the flu? The flu includes any one of the many strains of influenza, a viral infection which often has rapid onset and symptoms which include high fever, headache, body aches, fatigue, sore throat, and cough. Symptoms can be debilitating and last for several days. The milder cold often includes coughing and sore throat but rarely a fever
What is the “stomach flu”? Stomach flu is not influenza. The flu only occasionally causes nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. The term refers to illnesses that are most likely caused by food poisoning or gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus.
How is the flu spread? The flu is spread by droplets from coughing or by touching a surface containing germs from an infected person. In turn, you become infected when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.
Is this a bad flu season? While last year was unusually mild, the flu arrived earlier than usual this year and we are seeing more cases than we typically would this time of year. Hospitals and emergency rooms are reporting high rates of flu-like activity.
How can I protect myself? Get vaccinated at the health department, your healthcare provider, or local pharmacy. Wash your hands often with warm soapy water, disinfect surfaces, and avoid touching your face. If you get sick, protect others by staying home and covering coughs with your arm. Maintain a healthy immune system with good nutrition, sleep, and exercise.
Does the flu shot protect against this year’s flu? Most of the flu being detected in our area is the Influenza A H3N2 strain, which is covered in this year’s shot.
Why did I get sick even after I got the shot? You may have become infected before building up full immunity from the vaccine (which takes about two weeks), caught a flu virus not covered by the shot, or had an illness similar to influenza but not the flu itself. Finally, although the flu vaccine helps prevent infection, it is not 100% effective. Still, the vaccine can lessen the effects of the flu even if you still get sick. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
Should I go to the doctor if I have the flu? Most people recover on their own using home treatment (fever-reducing medicine, plenty of fluids and rest). You should get medical help if you experience breathing problems, altered consciousness, or have a medical condition that worsens with illness. People under five years old or over age 64, pregnant women, and those with chronic health issues are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu.
For more information (including vaccine availability), call the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (673-3528) or visit www.swuhealth.org