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Still time to safeguard against the flu

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Although February marks the peak of flu season, health officials say it is not too late to get a vaccination.

"We're starting to see an increase in flu cases," said Hayla Hall, spokeswoman for District 4 Public Health. "We're starting to see more people coming into doctor's offices."

Hall said the cases are no more than typical for this time of year, the peak of flu season. But area residents should still safeguard against influenza and prepare for a busy flu season.

Local schools have, so far, reported average absentee rates due to the infectious disease or any of its' related illnesses for this time of year.

"As it stands right now, we haven't seen any unusual issues as far as attendance is concerned," said Charles White, Clayton County Public Schools spokesman.

White said that parents should be sure that their children get plenty of rest and take the necessary precautions to ward off flu-related illnesses, and help prevent exposures to school populations.

Good, healthy hygiene habits are the first line of defense against exposure and infection in children and adults, health officials say.

"If you do get the flu, drink plenty of fluids (preferably water) and avoid people who are sick," said Hall.

Aside from receiving the influenza vaccination, common habits like washing your hands often, covering your mouth when you cough, and staying away from people who are sick, help in combating the spread of the illness.

"Do the things that your mother taught you when you were little," said Curtis Allen, spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. "If you are sick, stay home and see a doctor."

Nationwide, 11 states reported widespread flu activity and 26 states reported regional flu activity during the last week of January, entering into the peak of flu season.

Most widespread flu cases have been concentrated in the northeast or southwest, starting in states like New York and Texas.

"There is no typical flu season [most flu seasons peak in February], but this one is beginning to pick up a little," Allen said.

Common flu symptoms among school-aged children and adults include: fever, headaches, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Influenza, anti-viral drugs can also help combat flu symptoms. Treatment with anti-viral drugs is effective for people of all ages, but should begin within 48 hours of getting sick. The drugs can reduce symptoms and shorten the sickness time.

When used for prevention, anti-virals are 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing flu infection, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends avoiding use of alcohol and tobacco. Over-the-counter medications can relieve the symptoms of the flu, but parents should never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms.

Two types of vaccinations exist now in combating flu -- the "flu shot" and the nasal-spray.

The flu shot consists of a vaccine containing a virus that has been killed, and is typically given through the arm by needle. The shot is used for people older than 6 months.

The nasal-spray vaccine ["live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV)" or FluMist] is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. It can be used by healthy people who are not pregnant, between the ages of 2 and 49.

People at high risk for complications from the flu, and people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, should be vaccinated annually.

Health officials say there is still time to get vaccinated as flu season generally begins as early as October and can last through May.

Flu vaccinations generally cost about $25 and can be taken at the local health department, a doctor's office, or some pharmacies.

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On the net:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov